Category Archives: Tobacco control
The public comment period for rules regulating the sale and use of e-cigarettes proposed in April by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ends on August 8, after which the agency is expected to release final rules governing the products. Experts say the timing is critical because sales of the products—which weren’t even on the market a decade ago—are heating up, with revenues approaching $1 billion a year, according to Forbes Magazine.
Last week, Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released a health policy brief about e-cigarettes that sets out key issues concerning the products and provides important background, particularly for people poised to comment on the FDA’s proposed rules.
Among the issues the policy brief addresses are e-cigarette safety; whether the devices ought to be regulated as a medical (smoking cessation) device or as a cigarette; and whether e-cigarettes pose a risk as a “gateway” drug to tobacco products. It notes that the FDA is currently funding close to 40 studies on e-cigarettes.
The issue is especially critical because sales to kids and teens are increasing, and there is still insufficient information on whether the vapor emitted by the devices pose a cancer risk. A 2013 study of 40,000 middle and high school students around the country by researchers at UC San Francisco found that e-cigarette use in that group doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.
Read the policy brief from Health Affairs and RWJF.
>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth post on initiatives by major cities to regulate the sale and use of e-cigarettes.
Citylab—formerly Atlantic Cities—reported recently on an architectural award bestowed by Residential Architect on the Corinthian Gardens Smokers Shelter, a 275-square-foot structure in Des Moines, Iowa. It was created by local architectural firm ASK Studio for smokers who live in a nearby apartment building. “This project serves as a reminder that smokers aren’t extinct by quietly celebrating an activity that has gone from banal to banned,” reads the description on the publication’s online portal.
“It’s the sort of structure that has the feel of a private clubhouse for the tobacco-initiated,” according to award juror Cary Bernstein, whose comments were published by Residential Architect. “It makes you want to smoke so you can be in it.”
Wisely, the materials used to construct the shelter are nonflammable. Smokers get benches to sit on while they smoke and lighting for security after dark.
Corinthian Gardens is hardly the only such smoking shelter in the United States. An online search finds several companies that make the shelters, although none seem as glitzy as the one in Des Moines. And late last year a judge in Great Falls, Montana, ruled that smoking shelters that also house gambling machines don’t violate the city’s Clean Indoor Air Act.
So far, it seems, the shelters are legal so long as they adhere to rules governing smoking in the state or city they’re in, such as being built the requisite distance away from a building to avoid blowing second hand smoke at non-smokers. But tobacco- control advocates worry that the shelters, especially the recent award winner, can hurt the goals of completely eradicating smoking as a social norm—especially when 19 percent of U.S. adults still smoke.
“The fact that people are being protected from the elements is fine, we support the design perspective, but we worry about anything that normalizes or glamorizes smoking,” said Robin Koval, president and CEO of tobacco control advocacy group Legacy.
“We don’t’ hate smokers, we love smokers, what we hate is tobacco,” said Koval, “and so you have to call the structure what it is: a waiting room for the cancer ward because one out of two people who use it will die of tobacco-related diseases. To us that’s really the issue.”
Big Cities Health Coalition, Other Groups Push FDA to Expand Its Proposed Regulations on E-Cigarettes
A growing number of public health groups are urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to go well beyond the new rules the agency proposed last month to expand its authority over tobacco, including e-cigarettes. Late last week the Big Cities Health Coalition, made up of twenty of the largest cities in the United States—including Boston, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles—held a briefing in Washington, D.C. to address what they see as significant gaps in the recently released FDA tobacco regulations. The Coalition is a project of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). “What began as a sliver of the tobacco market is now predicted to eclipse traditional tobacco sales by mid-century,” said the Coalition in a letter to the agency last week.
The letter and Washington, D.C., briefing highlighted concerns about regulating e-cigarettes that the current FDA rules do not address:
- E-cigarettes are being marketed in ways that appeal to youth and could undermine existing tobacco regulations
- E-cigarette manufacturers are making unsubstantiated claims regarding health and safety
- E-cigarettes do not carry health warning labels
Marketing to children was a key concern during the Coalition’s briefing. “The FDA should aggressively limit access to minors and not allow marketing to them or flavorings,” said Barbara Ferrer, MPH, PhD, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. All of the commissioners at the briefing voiced a need to regulate flavorings, which can include flavors such as—bubble gum and watermelon—and which the commissioners say are a direct enticement for young people.
“Bubble gum is not a flavor that’s aimed at you or me,” said Mary Bassett, MD, MPH, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Many of the Coalition member cities have already proposed or enacted laws regarding e-cigarettes that are stricter than the ones proposed by last month by the FDA. A sampling of city regulations regarding e-cigarettes includes:
- Boston — E-cigarettes are not permitted in the workplace; sales are not permitted to anyone under 18; and neither cigarette smoking nor e-cigarette “vaping” are permitted in the city’s public parks.
- New York City — Bans the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 21, and as of August 2014 “vaping” will not be permitted anywhere cigarette smoking is not allowed.
- Chicago — Requires retailers to obtain tobacco licenses in order to sell e-cigarettes, prohibits sales of e-cigarettes within 500 feet of schools, requires e-cigarettes to be sold behind store counters and prohibits use of e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited.
- Los Angeles — E-cigarettes cannot be used in public buildings, in parks, at beaches and at other locations where cigarette and tobacco smoking is prohibited. Sales are not allowed to people under 18.
“City health commissioners and mayors are playing and will continue to play critical roles in regulating tobacco products, including e-cigarettes,” said Vince Willmore, vice president for communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C. “Overall, the main things public health advocates can do is to comment on the FDA rule and urge that it be finalized as quickly as possible; push for action in their own states and communities to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products; and continue to focus attention on the problems posed by e-cigarettes.”
The FDA has proposed a 75-day comment period rather than the usual 90-day period, pointed out Robin Koval, president and CEO of Legacy. Last week the organization released a new report on e-cigarettes that looked at the rise of e-cigarette use among youth, as well as the entry of the major tobacco companies into the e-cigarette market.
Koval said she would like to see the FDA commit to a specific time frame for sending its proposed rules to Congress once the comment period is over because “there isn’t’ any time to lose in getting the regulations out...these markets are building growth aggressively.”
>>Bonus Link: Read about a new study in The New York Times, which found that e-cigarettes can become hot enough to release some carcinogens found in conventional cigarettes.
The announcement by CVS Caremark this morning that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS pharmacy stores across the United States by October 1, 2014, does more than just end an outlet for smokers. It also removes a highly effective marketing tactic from those stores, the tobacco "power wall," which is aimed at enticing current and would-be smokers—especially children and teens—to smoke.
Most retail food and sundry stores include the colorful display walls, which are usually designed by tobacco companies who also often provide financial incentives to store owners to keep the walls stocked. A report, updated in 2012, by the Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy which is funded by the New York State and Vermont departments of Health, says the power walls “are highly engineered by tobacco companies to maximize visual intrusiveness and instigate impulse purchases.” The report adds that the walls “function as a subtle kind of advertising, conveying the message that cigarettes are popular and desirable."
A 2006 study in the journal Heath Education Research found that “[t]he presence of cigarette displays at the point-of-sale... has adverse effects on students’ perceptions about ease of access to cigarettes and brand recall, both factors that increase the risk of taking up smoking.”
And, according to a November report on point of sale displays by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, exposure to point of sale tobacco product displays “influences youth smoking, promotes the social acceptability of tobacco products, increases impulse tobacco purchases and undermines quitting attempts.”
While San Francisco and a few other cities have passed laws that ban cigarette sales in pharmacies, and the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is working to expand that ban, no U.S. jurisdictions have ended displays of tobacco products according to tobacco control legal experts, generally because of concern that they might be sued by tobacco companies claiming an infringement of the companies’ right to commercial free speech under the U.S. Constitution. Recently, tobacco control legal experts have said tobacco company suits likely have less merit since the 2009 law giving regulation of most U.S. tobacco products to the Food and Drug Administration.
But tobacco control advocates hope other major pharmcies will follow the CVS example, since leveraging the power of private companies to support a culture of health may be a far more effective way to bring down those walls.
>>Read a statement by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president Risa Lavizzo Mourey on the CVS Caremark decision to stop selling cigarettes in its stores.
A tobacco history timeline published today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showcases a decrease in smoking among adults, from 42.2 percent in 1965, shortly after the release of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in 1964, to about 18 percent today. More than just a repository of changes in smoking rates over the years, 50 Years of Tobacco Control is an interactive look at the events and actions that have prevented more than eight million premature deaths in the ongoing fight to keep communities safe from the dangers of tobacco.
The timeline offers interviews with today’s tobacco control leaders—people such as John Sefrin, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society, and Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids—who have made enormous strides in tobacco control and have a bold vision for tobacco reduction in the future. While scrolling through the major tobacco control milestones of the last 50 years, viewers can examine historical cigarette advertisements, reports and photos.
The Tobacco Timeline is an excellent resource for understanding the last 50 years of tobacco control, as well as the ambitious goals that health advocates have set for the future. While eight million premature tobacco-related deaths have been prevented by tobacco control efforts, up to 20 million have been lost in the same time frame.
Although smoking rates have dramatically declined, there is much more to the story. At a White House event to release the new Surgeon General’s report, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius shared some urgent facts from the report, including the projection that “approximately 5.6 million American children alive today—or one out of every 13 children under age 18—will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases unless current smoking rates drop.”
The new report ticks off new hazards of smoking in the last fifteen years, including new findings that show more diseases linked to smoking than previously reported including diabetes, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, age-related macular degeneration and strokes caused by secondhand smoke. Additionally, according to the report, cigarettes themselves are more lethal than they were fifty years ago.
Tobacco featured prominently as a public health issue at the American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting this week, including a regulatory update from Mitch Zeller, JD, who became director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products earlier this year. Zeller previously worked on tobacco issues in government as associate commissioner and director of FDA’s first Office of Tobacco Programs, and also as a U.S. delegate to the World Health Organization (WHO) Working Group for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Zeller ahead of the APHA meeting.
Mitch Zeller: I think most broadly my goals are to help give the center and the agency the greatest chance of fulfilling the public health mission behind the law passed in 2009 giving the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco. This really is an important piece of legislation. It’s really stunning that in 2013—with everything that we know about the harms associated with tobacco use—that it remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease both in this country and globally.
There are some very powerful tools that Congress has given FDA to use wisely and supported by evidence. That’s where I think, the greatest opportunity lies: to use the tools relying on regulatory science to try to protect consumers and reduce the death and disease toll from tobacco.
There are two areas where I think these tools can make a profound positive impact on public health. The first is something called product standards, which is basically the power to ban, restrict or limit the allowable levels of ingredients in tobacco or tobacco smoke. We are exploring potential product standards in three areas: toxicity, addiction and appeal. And we are funding research in all three areas and working very hard behind the scenes to find out what our options are for potential product standards in those three areas.
“Are they harm reduction or are they smoking cessation? It’s a tough situation because, on the one hand, you have what it does and on the other you have the claims are that are allowable under the law. It’s a strange situation where they are being regulated as tobacco products. But they are not tobacco products. There’s no tobacco in them.”
Many hard facts about e-cigarettes are still unclear. What is clear is that marketers are pushing hard to make the switch from smoking to “vaping” an ongoing trend. In the above quote from a TechCrunch article, Michael Siegel, MD, Professor at Boston University’s Public School of Health, mulled over some very real concerns about where we’re heading in terms of e-cigarette regulation.
The current debate between the manufactures and public health experts surrounds the health impacts of the nicotine product. The e-cigarette “boom” began around 2007, starting first with smaller companies. After making a dent in cigarette sales—unlike cessation therapies such as the patch and gums—tobacco companies took notice and are starting to jump onboard.
Today e-cigarettes are especially rising in popularity among what some may consider the “hip” crowd. From a recent article in The New York Times:
Do we need an endgame strategy to finally end the devastating hold tobacco has on its users? Scholars, scientists and policy experts grapple with endgame proposals in a special supplement to the journal Tobacco Control. Some of the articles are based on a workshop held last year at the University of Michigan, with financial support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Legacy Foundation. The workshop was hosted by Kenneth Warner, PhD, a former dean at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and now a professor at the School.
Although smoking has declined significantly in most developed nations in the last half-century, due to policy changes and increased education about the health hazards, says Warner, too many people continue to die from the most preventable cause of premature death and illness. It's estimated that worldwide six million people a year die from illnesses caused by cigarettes, including more than 400,000 in the U.S. alone."There is a newfound interest in discussing the idea of an endgame strategy. The fact that we can talk about it openly reflects a sea change,” says Warner.
>>Read the articles in the tobacco endgame supplement.
Some of the strategies in the supplement include:
- Requiring manufacturers to reduce nicotine content sufficiently to make cigarettes nonaddictive.
- A "sinking lid" strategy that would call for quotas on sales and imports of tobacco, which would reduce supply and drive up price to deter tobacco purchases.
- A "tobacco-free generation" proposal calling for laws that would prevent the sale of tobacco to those born after a given year, usually cited as 2000, to keep young people from starting to smoke; or ban the sale of cigarettes altogether.
"What we are doing today is not enough," says Warner. "Even if we do very well with tobacco control, as we have for several decades now, we'll have a huge number of smokers for years to come, and smoking will continue to cause millions of deaths.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Dr. Warner about some of the strategies proposed for ending tobacco use.
NewPublicHealth: Why is there a need for novel, even radical, endgame strategy?
Ken Warner: While a lot of people have quit smoking, if you look at the rate at which people are quitting in the United States, in the last few years it may actually have declined. In Canada, there is some concern that their very low rates of smoking may actually have gone up. In Singapore, which had the lowest smoking prevalence among developed nations, the smoking rate went up from 12.6 percent to 14.3 percent between 2004 and 2010. So what we're observing is that in some of the countries that have had pretty good success with tobacco control, smoking is now being reduced somewhat more slowly, or possibly even increasing. And if we stay at the current rate of smoking, or even if the smoking rate continues to decline slowly, smoking will remain the leading cause of preventable premature death for many years to come.
NPH: What are some of the reasons that we’re seeing a plateau in the reduction of tobacco use?
While twelve states currently have laws regulating sales of electronic cigarettes (known as e-cigarettes) to minors, a new post on the Network for Public Health Law blog calls on more states to restrict sales to minors while the Food and Drug Administration continues their review of the device.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine, but no tobacco and often come in kid-alluring flavors such as chocolate and vanilla. According to the Network post, one small FDA study found carcinogens and toxins in e-cigarettes. Health experts are concerned that the electronic devices may also be a gateway tool for young adults to actual, cancer-causing, tobacco-filled cigarettes.
E-cigarette use has skyrocketed among adults, according to a recent study by researchers funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, about 21 percent of adults who smoke traditional cigarettes had used electronic cigarettes, up from about 10 percent in 2010. Awareness of e-cigarettes rose from about four in 10 adults in 2010 to six in 10 adults in 2011.
Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, Health Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is the keynote speaker at the opening session of the Public Health Law Research annual meeting that started yesterday afternoon in New Orleans. In advance of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Farley about the role of legal research in moving the public health agenda forward, how New York City is doing in the weeks following Hurricane Sandy, and the flu epidemic hitting the city that prompted New York State Governor Cuomo to declare a public health emergency earlier this week.
NewPublicHealth: What will you focus on during your address at the Public Health Law Research Program annual meeting?
Dr. Farley: I will be going through a number of policies that we have put in place here in New York City to promote health. Most of those will be around food, but some will be around tobacco. So that includes things such as our raising of tobacco taxes, our smoke-free air rule and around our prohibition on the use of trans fats in restaurants, our calorie labeling initiative and our portion rule [limits on beverage sizes at some food outlets]. And I will share some thoughts about the role researchers can play in policy development for an agency like ours.
NPH: How important has legal research been for some of the recent public health initiatives that have been introduced in New York City?