By Matthew L. Myers
The sweeping tobacco regulatory agenda proposed by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb represents a bold and comprehensive vision with the potential to accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use and the death and disease it causes in the United States. Critical to his vision is his recognition that the components of his proposal need to work together as “a package deal” – “it is really all or nothing,” as he put it.
At the same time, it is a serious error for the FDA to significantly delay critical deadlines for complying with the FDA’s 2016 rule establishing oversight of electronic cigarettes, cigars and other previously unregulated tobacco products. This long delay will allow egregious, kid-friendly e-cigarettes and cigars, in flavors like gummy bear, cherry crush and banana smash, to stay on the market with little public health oversight. There is no reason to allow these products to stay on the market while developing and implementing the comprehensive strategy Dr. Gottlieb outlined today.
If the FDA implements this agenda quickly and comprehensively as a package, it can bring about transformational change that will significantly reduce tobacco use and save lives. We are prepared to work closely with Dr. Gottlieb and the FDA in support of this overall approach. We fully agree that the top priority must be taking bold and decisive steps to reduce the use and addictiveness of cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products that are the primary cause of the death and disease caused by tobacco use in the U.S. We also agree that much more needs to be done to provide smokers who want to quit with properly regulated nicotine delivery systems that are effective at helping smokers quit and are not manufactured or marketed in ways that appeal to youth.
Several of the proposals Dr. Gottlieb made today have particular promise to transform the fight against tobacco use – the No. 1 cause of preventable death in our country. These include proposals to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive levels; to regulate the use of flavors in tobacco products, including prohibiting the use of menthol in cigarettes; and to develop more effective tobacco cessation treatments in order to help more smokers quit. The FDA should move quickly and aggressively to implement these proposals, which can prevent kids from ever becoming addicted to tobacco and help more smokers succeed in quitting.
It is also important to remember that the FDA’s agenda is a complement to, and not a substitute for, implementing proven strategies to reduce tobacco use by all levels of government. These include significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws, hard-hitting media campaigns, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and raising the tobacco sale age to 21.