This has been a long time coming, especially when you consider that the tobacco companies have never had to share the ingredients in their products with the public.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, as it is called, stops short of empowering the F.D.A. to outlaw smoking or ban nicotine â€” strictures that even most antismoking advocates acknowledged were not politically feasible and might drive people addicted to nicotine into a criminal black market.
But the law would give the F.D.A. power to set standards that could reduce nicotine content and regulate chemicals in cigarette smoke. The law also bans most tobacco flavorings, which are considered a lure to first-time smokers. Menthol was deferred to later studies. Health advocates predict that F.D.A. standards could eventually reduce some of the 60 carcinogens and 4,000 toxins in cigarette smoke, or make it taste so bad it deters users.
And then there’s the marketing and the warnings…
Colorful ads and store displays will be replaced by black-and-white-only text. Beginning next year, all outdoor advertising of tobacco within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds would be illegal.
And cigarette makers will be required to stop using terms like â€œlightâ€ and â€œlow tarâ€ by next year and to place large, graphic health warnings on their packages by 2012.
If you think that’s extreme, check out what Brazil makes cigarette companies put on the back of their boxes (Warning: VERY graphic.)
Still, some are saying that the bill doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t address menthol cigarettes, which are supposed to be the most addictive.
The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network released a statement on the bill last May that read, “Tobacco legislation that treats menthol differently from other flavoring additives is incomplete.” This is in response to studies showing that menthols are far more addictive then other cigarettes and far harder to quit, no matter what race the smoker is.
And last July, the Harvard School of Public Health released a study showing that tobacco manufacturers carefully controlled the menthol content of cigarettes to maximize its masking of harsh tobacco smoke, even creating new brands for longtime smokers who require increasing amounts of menthol to maintain its numbing, cooling effect.
Menthols accounted for a quarter of the roughly 370 billion cigarettes smoked domestically in 2006 and are more popular here than anywhere else in the world. So far, neither Waxman nor Sen. Ted Kennedy, who shepherded the Senate version through his Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last week, has specifically defended the exclusion of a menthol ban. Waxman notes that after an FDA study, menthol could be banned as well but didn’t explain why menthol merited a study period and chocolate cigarettes did not.
I think it’s pretty obvious why we didn’t ban menthol cigarettes. Because it would be politically impossible right now since they’re such a huge part of the market.
Maybe it’ll happen further down the road, but for right now this is a great first step.