New Rules Take Effect For Tobacco Industry

New rules are in place a year after Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco. Most of the rules are aimed at keeping tobacco products out of the hands of young people. For example, it's now against the law anywhere in the United States to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

New rules regulating tobacco products go into effect today. It's been a year since Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco. Most of these rules are aimed at keeping tobacco products out of the hands of young people. It is now against the law, anywhere in the United States, to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18. NPR's Brenda Wilson says that's not all.

BRENDA WILSON: Here's the list of don'ts. No loosies can be sold. That's anything less than a full 20 cigarette pack. No free cigarette samples or gifts with logos on them. No industry sponsorship of any music or sporting events.

The new rules also make changes to tobacco packaging aimed at kids. For one, the size of labels on smokeless tobacco that say things like this product can cause gum disease now cover a third of the package. And to clear up any confusion among adults, Dr. Lawrence Deyton, the director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products explains that labels such as light, mild or low tar have been banned on all tobacco products.

Dr. Lawrence Deyton (Director, FDA Center for Tobacco Products): It's a very big step. We all recognize that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans have used those products for a long time, expecting some kind of lessened risk in their tobacco use. And that just has not been proven to be the case. The morbidity, mortality, the death related to tobacco use is not different among products.

WILSON: Companies have a month for products with the older labels to move off the shelves. But Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris, says his company is ahead of schedule.

Mr. BILL PHELPS (Spokesman, Philip Morris): We have removed the terms that are prohibited under the FDA Law. And for the most part, our packs have seen minimal changes.

WILSON: Words, however, have been added, he says, to assist store clerks in identifying different products.

Mr. PHELPS: A pack might say gold or silver. A typical store will have about 120 different cigarette packings. And so it's important that the retail clerk can communicate with that consumer, also identify that pack, and hand it to the adult smoker.

WILSON: But industry opponents, such as Matt Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says these changes aren't innocuous and that the packaging being adopted is intended to mislead consumers.

Mr. MATT MEYERS (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids): It's not illegal for a retailer to give a consumer who asks for what used to be a mild light. Our concern, however, is the tobacco industry is color coding the cigarettes. Not just to that they'll be able to identify the cigarette, but lighter colors have been shown in studies done by the tobacco industry, to communicate safety.

WILSON: Myers says the government should follow New York City's example and hit back with a marketing campaign of its own.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Unidentified Man: Tobacco companies are now using colored packaging, because deceptive labels like light and low tar have been banned. Don't be fooled. All cigarettes contain the same poisons that make you sick and kill you.

WILSON: The tobacco industry is suing the city, not for the TV ad, but for graphic images of throat and lung cancers that can be seen on posters wherever cigarettes are sold. Meanwhile, the FDA says it is examining the industries new packaging efforts more closely.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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