May 28, 2023

Senate Panel Discusses Tobacco Regulation

Washington, D.C. (May 22, 2014) — Last week a hearing was convened to discuss the state of tobacco use and regulation in the United States.  Sens. Tom Harkin, D-IA, Richard Burr, R-N.C., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., examined both the extraordinary public health efforts that have driven down tobacco use and the enormous challenges that remain.

Panel members, Dr. Tim McAfee of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and Mitch Zeller of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, talked about the ongoing public health challenge posed by tobacco use.  They also examined the important community-based and regulatory work in which those agencies are engaged.

“Our nation has made remarkable progress in the 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.  In that time the smoking rate has been cut by more than half—from 42 percent to 18 percent,” Senator Harkin explained.  “And we’ve learned what works: from smoke-free workplaces to access to free cessation services, from meaningful tobacco taxes to robust regulation, from media campaigns like the wildly successful Tips From a Former Smoker campaign to commonsense marketing restrictions.  We know what works.”

Senator Alexander explained the problems with current regulations, “One, the regulation should be based on data and on sound science.  Two, no sales to anyone under the age of 18; any child begininning to use a tobacco or nicotine product is bad for public health.  Thirdly, manufacturers should register and list the products they make and ingredients they use with the FDA.  After that, I think we need to focus on the research and what it tells us.”

Sixteen million Americans currently suffer from smoking-related illness and 5.6 million children will ultimately die as a result of exposure.  Nearly 1 in 4 high school seniors smoke, and statistically, most young smokers eventually become adult smokers.  Many adult smokers die prematurely from tobacco-related disease.

However, this is not just a traditional cigarette problem.  Last fall the CDC reported that the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, among middle and high school students more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. “It’s because of statistics like these that public health efforts to combat tobacco have been among my top priorities since I came to Washington,” Senator Harkin said.  “In response to the hundreds of thousands who die every year due to tobacco use I introduced the first comprehensive, bipartisan bill in 1998 to give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco—a goal that finally became a reality five years ago with the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  I look forward to examining the implementation of that law, to date.”

The panel also discussed the future of the FDA’s new proposal to regulate e-cigarettes and other tobacco products under the authority of the Family Smoking and Prevention Control Act.  This hearing was Congress’ first examination of that proposal which has extraordinary consequences for public health.