Jun 12th, 2009
The House and Senate have passed a historic tobacco control bill that will give the FDA power to regulate the marketing, advertising and manufacturing of tobacco products. President Obama – himself a former smoker – welcomed the bill, noting that it’s “a long time coming.” Until this point, the tobacco industry has been less regulated than the pet food and cosmetics industries, with strong tobacco lobbies and a likely Bush administration veto having thwarted FDA regulatory attempts previously.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, with Virginia breaking ranks with other tobacco-producing Southern states to support it.
One main intention of the bill is to prevent tobacco companies from targeting youth smokers. To that end, the FDA will have the power to:
- Prohibit flavored cigarettes (candy, fruit, etc)
- Outlaw cigarette advertising within 1000 feet of schools
- Prohibit the use of terms like “mild” or “light,” which imply a lesser health risk
- Regulate the amount of nicotine in products
- Approve new products before they hit the market
- Mandate better highlighting/graphics of the health warnings on packages
Although the bill bans most candy flavors and cloves, mint is the exception. Menthol got a free pass due primarily to friction from large tobacco companies like Phillip Morris, who backed this bill (with the menthol exemption) and happen to sell a lot of menthol products. Menthol cigarettes make up 25% of American tobacco consumption, and 75% of African American smokers prefer menthol. Some see the menthol exemption as racist; but of course, this opinion hinges primarily upon which side of the issue you support.
Banning clove cigarettes has faced major opposition from Indonesia, where 4 million clove farmers don’t want to lose market share to domestic companies producing menthol. However, in the end imported Indonesian spice lost out to the minty-freshness of domestic menthol. Some critics of the bill point out that it gives an unfair advantage to Philip Morris specifically, by making it harder for smaller brands to enter the market and by eliminating cloves as a competitor to menthol.
One main complainer about the bill is RJ Reynolds, the #2 cigarette producer in the U.S., leading this blogger to hope that some cable channel somewhere decides to re-run “Barbarians at the Gate” sometime soon. Because history lessons are always better with James Garner.
In any case, as “Schoolhouse Rock” taught us, the bill now goes to the President for his signature before it becomes a law.