FDA Restricts Marketing Tobacco To Youth

The FDA has issued the first regulations since Congress gave the agency power to regulate tobacco. The regulations clamp down on the marketing of cigarettes to children and teenagers. The new rules prohibit a number of ad strategies like giving way hats and T-shirts with tobacco logos. Plus, no more selling of cigarettes in certain vending machines where kids can get at them.

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There's a new effort to keep cigarettes away from kids. The Food and Drug Administration has announced new restrictions on how companies can sell and advertise tobacco products to minors. NPR's Deborah Franklin has more.

DEBORAH FRANKLIN: The new rule prohibits a number of ad strategies, like giving away hats and t-shirts with tobacco logos. No more selling of cigarettes in certain vending machines where kids can get at them. And there's to be no more selling of single cigarettes that are especially tempting to teens short of cash.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters that she and the FDA mean business.

Secretary KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (Department of Health and Human Services): The historic rule we're issuing today will help our kids stay healthy by making it harder for tobacco companies to target them with harmful and addictive products.

FRANKLIN: Actually, many of the provisions in the FDA rule are already law in most of the nation. They were part of a 1998 landmark legal settlement between major tobacco companies and 46 states. But Thursday's action gives the state and local restrictions more bite.

Ms. ELLEN VARGYAS (American Legacy Foundation): It's a very important step forward.

FRANKLIN: Ellen Vargyas is general counsel with the nonprofit American Legacy Foundation.

Ms. VARGYAS: What's new here is that for the first time, all these restrictions and requirements are brought together in one federal law under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration and its enforcement authority. We were very excited and pleased.

FRANKLIN: If tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds is not so pleased, David Howard, the company spokesman, didn't let on. He says his company wasn't surprised by the new regulations. They were mandated last summer when Congress passed the law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco.

Mr. DAVID HOWARD (Spokesman, R.J. Reynolds): We are not challenging regulation of the industry, nor are we challenging the authority granted the FDA by Congress in this matter.

FRANKLIN: But R.J. Reynolds and some other companies have already challenged some aspects of the FDA tobacco act in court. For example, in one recent case in Kentucky a judge agreed with the company that some restrictions the FDA wants to place on the color and text used in tobacco ads impinge on the company's First Amendment rights to free speech. That case is now under appeal.

Howard says the company has made no decision yet on whether it will challenge other provisions included in the new rules.

Mr. HOWARD: We look forward working together with the FDA on this, because we believe that cooperation and open dialogue is the best approach to developing an effective science-based regulatory framework for the tobacco industry.

FRANKLIN: Some of those other matters going forward include proposed rules restricting outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and playgrounds. The FDA is asking for public comment on that proposal. Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says preventing that first puff on a cigarette is key to saving money and lives. She points out that nearly 450,000 Americans die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year at a cost of almost $100 billion.

Sec. SEBELIUS: And yet we know that every day nearly 4,000 kids under the age of 18 try their first cigarette, and 1,000 of those young people become daily smokers.

FRANKLIN: The new rules aimed at protecting children and teens are among the first to be issued by the FDA under its new legal authority. Later this month, a new FDA committee will consider whether adding menthol to cigarettes makes them even more addictive and whether further regulation is needed.

Deborah Franklin, NPR News.

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