The Food and Drug Administration has taken a crucial step in exercising its new authority to regulate tobacco products by issuing rules restricting tobacco industry marketing and sales to youth. When the rules take effect on June 22, it will mark the first time the U.S. government has put its full force behind specific, nationwide regulations intended to thwart the tobacco industry’s continuing efforts to attract kids and turn them into lifelong addicts. This is a long-overdue step to stop the tobacco industry’s predatory targeting of our children that continues even today.
While the nation has significantly reduced youth tobacco use, 20 percent of high school students still smoke, and the tobacco industry continues to spend $12.8 billion a year—$35 million each day—to market its deadly and addictive products, often in ways that appeal to children. In fact, despite the limited marketing restrictions in the 1998 state tobacco settlement, total tobacco marketing expenditures have nearly doubled since then, according to the latest Federal Trade Commission reports on tobacco marketing (for 2006).
The continuing high rates of youth tobacco use and the vast sums spent on tobacco marketing are directly related. As revealed by tobacco industry documents, court rulings and scientific studies, the tobacco companies have long targeted children, and their marketing has been highly effective at getting children to smoke cigarettes and use other tobacco products.
The FDA first sought to impose restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to kids in 1996. But the industry successfully challenged the FDA’s authority to do so and the restrictions never went into effect. Then last year, Congress passed and President Obama signed the landmark law granting the FDA authority over tobacco products, including the power to implement these regulations. The new rules will:
- Ban all remaining tobacco-brand sponsorships of sports and entertainment events;
- Ban virtually all free tobacco samples and giveaways of non-tobacco items with the purchase of tobacco;
- Prohibit the sale of cigarettes in packs of less than 20, eliminating so-called “kiddie packs” that make cigarettes more affordable and appealing to kids;
- Restrict vending machines and self-service displays to adult-only facilities, requiring stores to place tobacco products behind the counter;
- Prohibit tobacco sales to children under 18, require photo identification checks for over-the-counter sales to anyone appearing under 27 years of age and provide for federal enforcement and penalties against retailers who sell to minors;
- Address the issue of outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and playgrounds;
- Restrict tobacco ads to black-and-white text only in publications with significant teen readership, at point-of-sale and outdoors (except in adult-only facilities).
A U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky recently upheld most of these marketing restrictions, rejecting tobacco industry claims that their First Amendment rights have been violated. While the judge struck down the provision limiting certain ads to black-and-white text only, the government has appealed that part of the ruling and the FDA has authority to modify this provision to accommodate judicial concerns.
The law also grants the FDA authority to further restrict tobacco marketing to protect public health, consistent with the First Amendment. The government for the first time has the authority to respond to the tobacco industry’s inevitable efforts to circumvent specific marketing restrictions.
The new marketing restrictions are more comprehensive than those in the 1998 state tobacco settlement, especially with regard to store advertising and promotions that comprise the vast bulk of tobacco marketing today. The new law applies to all tobacco companies, not just those covered by the state settlement.
The need for these marketing restrictions is clear and strongly supported by internal tobacco industry documents, court rulings and scientific studies (read our fact sheet on Tobacco Marketing to Kids). Just this week, for example, a new study published in the scientific journal Pediatrics found that R.J. Reynolds’ marketing campaign for Camel No. 9 cigarettes, launched in 2007, has resonated with teenage girls and dramatically increased their awareness of the brand—a factor known to increase the likelihood that teens will smoke. The fashion-themed marketing featured bright pink and teal packaging, advertising in top fashion magazines and promotional giveaways such as flavored lip balm, purses and cell phone jewelry.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans each year—more than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. It costs the nation $96 billion annually in health care bills. Effectively implemented, the new FDA law will protect our children from the tobacco industry’s marketing and reduce tobacco’s enormous toll in health, lives and health care costs.