Tobacco control community remains vigilant as Tobacco Control Act turns two
During House consideration of the spending bill that funds the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), lawmakers twice attempted to use the bill as a vehicle to undermine the agency’s authority over tobacco products.
The FDA has exercised regulatory control over the marketing, advertising and manufacturing of tobacco products since June 22, 2009, when the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law, and it has since made significant strides in implementing the law and enforcing stricter new regulations.
Although the Tobacco Control Act was overwhelmingly approved in both chambers of Congress, the recent proceedings in the House were a reminder that not all members are entirely supportive of the FDA’s new powers.
One provision, authored by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), would have prohibited funds going to the FDA for rule-making activities or guidance unless decisions were based on a narrow definition of "hard science." Such a restriction would have severely compromised the ability of the FDA to regulate tobacco products in accordance with its statute, "appropriate for the protection of public health," by limiting the kinds of scientific evidence FDA would be able to consider in its decisions.
The measure was ultimately stricken from the bill, but only after a surge of fierce resistance from the anti-tobacco community as well as from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
Equally as concerning was another amendment, offered by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), that would have cut funding for the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, which is central to overseeing the implementation of the Tobacco Control Act, from $477 million to $85 million.
While Stearns contended the amendment would help reduce the federal deficit, the tobacco center, unlike other centers at FDA, is funded entirely by fees paid by the tobacco industry, not the federal government. This prompted an immediate missive from long-time champion of the anti-tobacco effort, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who called Stearns’ proposal “misguided” and said that it would result in “an undeserved windfall to the tobacco industry.” The amendment was defeated 164 to 257.
While neither of these harmful measures were approved, they may signal an undercurrent of hostility toward the FDA’s efforts to assert its authority over the tobacco industry; hostility that will likely flare up later this week when the FDA addresses the issue of menthol cigarettes, which are highly profitable for the industry.
Menthol was the sole flavoring excluded from the initial ban on the distribution, manufacture and importation of candy-, fruit- or spice-flavored cigarettes that took effect in September 2009. This exclusion was at the discretion of Congress, which left it up to the FDA to make the determination whether the products should be regulated.
The FDA is currently considering a report from its Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) that determined that the removal of the products from the market would benefit public health. The committee recently completed an extensive review of the scientific evidence regarding the public health impact of menthol cigarettes, and concluded that the availability of menthol cigarettes increases the number of children and African-Americans who smoke. The FDA is expected to announce its response to the TPSAC report later this month.
The AACR, in addition to some lawmakers and countless other organizations with an interest in reducing tobacco use, has also called for a ban on menthol.
Given that tobacco use has been definitively proven to cause numerous types of cancer and accounts for 30 percent of cancer mortality in the United States, the AACR is committed to supporting the FDA as it works to reduce tobacco-related death and disease. The AACR Task Force on Tobacco and Cancer was convened in 2009 to foster scientific and policy initiatives to reduce the incidence of disease and mortality due to tobacco use and will continue to provide its expertise and assistance as implementation of the Tobacco Control Act moves into its third year.
Read more from the June edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: