Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2009


On June 22, 2009, President Obama signed a bill that could prove a damaging blow to Big Tobacco, granting the FDA for the first time the power to regulate the industry's products and marketing. The legislation allows the agency to set product standards and ban some chemical ingredients, and requires the industry to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes. The law also bans flavored cigarettes (with the exception of menthol), restricts advertising in magazines read frequently by youths and mandates that the industry prove or stop claiming that products are "light," "mild" or "low tar," labels that mislead smokers into thinking products are safe when they are not.

"We now have an opportunity to really make a difference with what is probably the No. 1 public-health concern in the nation and the world," FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.

But the tobacco wars are not over just yet. Not included in the latest legislation are electronic cigarettes — dissolvable tobacco tablets and other smokeless nicotine alternatives, which have been gaining in popularity in recent years. E-cigarettes are battery powered and usually come with replaceable cartridges that contain nicotine, a fruit or menthol flavoring and liquid propylene glycol, which is used to create artificial mist (propylene glycol is also used in antifreeze). Antismoking organizations warn that both their novelty and their relative accessibility (they can be purchased online and in malls) may make e-cigarettes particularly attractive to children and young adults, a claim heavily disputed by manufacturers.

E-cigarettes, which are marketed as "safer" cigarettes and which thousands of smokers are using in place of traditional ones, remain unapproved and untested by the government. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has asked the FDA to take them off the market until safety studies can be conducted. The agency has already taken steps to prevent them from being imported into the country from manufacturers in China and elsewhere, but consumers can still purchase the inventory already in stock.