The recent report on “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults” by the Surgeon General not only documents the devastating consequences of tobacco use for our nation’s youth, but also represents a clarion call for bold action at every level of government to implement proven strategies to keep kids off tobacco. (See here for more on the new report on youth smoking)
After years of steady progress, declines in the use of tobacco by youth and young adults have slowed for cigarette smoking and stalled for smokeless tobacco use. This report makes it abundantly clear, young people are highly susceptible to tobacco advertising and marketing activities leading many youth to a lifetime of addiction coupled with serious health consequences.
This is the first Surgeon General’s Report on youth since President Obama signed the bipartisan Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) into law in 2009. That law gave FDA, for the first time, explicit and broad authority to regulate tobacco products to reduce the tremendous toll caused by their use in our country. The importance of a principal focus of that law – protecting our kids – is dramatically underscored by the findings in this Surgeon General’s Report.
In just over 2 years, the Tobacco Control Act has allowed FDA to implement a wide array of new restrictions to reduce the access and attractiveness of tobacco products to young people. FDA is implementing the law’s ban of cigarettes with fruit, candy, and certain other flavors. And for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, FDA is enforcing the age of 18 as the national minimum age of purchase for these products, the ban on vending machine sales, the ban on sales of single cigarettes and give-away of free samples of cigarettes, the ban on use of brand name sponsorship of concerts and sporting events, the requirements for new smokeless tobacco warnings to communicate health risks, and the prohibition on misleading advertising claims that imply products are safer. In addition, FDA protects the nation’s youth by conducting inspections to ensure that tobacco retailers comply with these requirements; to date, more than 40,000 retail inspections have been completed.
FDA welcomes the authoritative and comprehensive scientific findings in the Surgeon General’s Report and will use these facts as we propose tobacco product regulations to protect our nation’s health and to conduct science-based education campaigns to inform the public—particularly young people—about the harmful ingredients in tobacco products with the goal to prevent initiation. By applying the science contained in this and other Surgeon General’s reports we can help make tobacco-related death and disease a part of America’s past, not its future. ■
—Margaret A. Hamburg, MD