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FDA Toughens Rules on Tobacco Sales to Kids

Move includes near-elimination of cigarette vending machines, restrictions on advertising

THURSDAY, March 18, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials issued new federal rules Thursday cracking down on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to children and teens.

New national bans on vending machine sales of cigarettes, free samples, tobacco company sponsorship of sporting events and even full-color cigarette ads are all part of the rules issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The rules, which go into effect June 22, "will help our kids stay healthy by making it harder for tobacco companies to target them with harmful and addictive products," Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said during an afternoon press conference.

Everyday, almost 4,000 children under 18 try their first cigarette and 1,000 become daily smokers, Sebelius noted. "Despite a ban on direct marketing to young Americans, tobacco companies have still found ways to reach out to them," she said.

It's not an accident that the brands that spend the most on ads -- Marlboro, Camel and Newport -- are the most popular among children than adults, Sebelius added. This week, a study published in the journal Pediatrics charged tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds with marketing Camel No. 9 cigarettes to teen girls, something the company denied.

The new federal rules should "make it harder for companies to advertise tobacco products and harder for kids to buy them," Sebelius said.

The rules take effect less than a year after the passage of the landmark Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which authorized the FDA to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products.

The new FDA rules limit the sale of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to people 18 and over, adding to rules already in place in many states. The rules also prohibit the sale of cigarettes in packages of less than 20.

This means that cigarettes can no longer be sold one at a time, as what are popularly known as "loosies." Also, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco cannot be sold in vending machines or self-service displays, except in very special circumstances, the FDA said.

The rule also prohibits giving away sample cigarettes and limits the distribution of smokeless tobacco such as "chew."

The new FDA oversight also limits how tobacco products can be marketed. No longer will tobacco companies be able to use product brand names to sponsor any "athletic, musical, or other social or cultural event, or any team or entry in those events," according to the FDA.

The rules also prohibit giving gifts in exchange for buying cigarettes or smokeless tobacco and prohibit the sale or distribution of tobacco brand logo items, such as hats and T-shirts.

Finally, the rules ban any audio-only ads for tobacco products from using music or sound effects. And advertising that could be seen by children must be in black and white only, not color.

As part of the new regulations, the FDA will have authority to enforce the rules and make sure that retailers are in compliance.

"Studies have shown that tobacco promotion substantially increases smoking initiation by children and adolescents," Dr. Howard K. Koh, HHS assistant secretary for health, said during the press conference. "The regulations being announced today are designed to prevent our children from becoming the next generation of Americans to die early from tobacco-related illness."

The new rules come a few months after the FDA banned cigarettes with fruit, candy, and clove flavors that are thought to have special appeal for children. That rule went into effect in late September.

Anti-smoking groups were quick to applaud the new regulations.

"The Food and Drug Administration today 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," Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a news release. "The government for the first time has the authority to respond to the tobacco industry's inevitable efforts to circumvent specific marketing restrictions.

"This is a long-overdue step to stop the tobacco industry's predatory targeting of our children that continues even today," he added.

The American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network said in a news release that "tobacco companies will continue to feel the unwelcome impact of federal regulation of their industry, as landmark FDA restrictions on marketing tobacco products to children and teens were announced today."

"Big Tobacco has for decades specifically targeted ad campaigns to attract and addict generations of young smokers," John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, added in the statement. "The restrictions on tobacco marketing intended to hook children to these addictive and deadly products is a critical step toward saving lives."

One tobacco industry representative said his company will look closely at the new rules.

"We are reviewing the regulation that was released today and we are hopeful that the FDA will engage with the industry to resolve the issues related to this process that continues to unfold," said Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris U.S.A.

In 2009, Philip Morris filed a letter with the FDA saying that some of the restrictions on marketing violate the First Amendment.

Phelps also said that many of the issues were resolved in 1998 with the master tobacco settlement agreement. Philip Morris only markets through direct mail and on restricted online sites, he said.

More information

For more on the new tobacco ruling, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: March 18, 2009, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press conference with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, Health and Human Services, and Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H., HHS assistant secretary health; Bill Phelps, spokesman, Phillip Morris U.S.A.; March 18, 2010, news releases, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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