33 Leading Health Groups Urge FDA to Stop Tobacco Industry Practices That Have Made Cigarettes More Deadly

March 28, 2014 - 12:00pm

WASHINGTON, DC – Thirty-three leading public health and medical organizations are urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make it a priority to regulate how cigarettes are manufactured and stop tobacco industry practices that have made cigarettes even more deadly and addictive than they were 50 years ago.

In a letter sent this week to Mitchell Zeller, Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, the health groups urged the FDA to take action in response to the new Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress, released in January. 

The new report found that, despite smoking fewer cigarettes, smokers today are at far greater risk of developing lung cancer than they were 50 years ago, when the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health alerted the nation that smoking causes lung cancer.  The new report also concluded that this outcome is the result of changes made during that time in the design and composition of U.S. cigarettes. 

“No manufacturer of any other product would have been allowed to make product changes that increased the risk of fatal disease to its users,” the letter states.  “It is imperative that FDA respond to the Surgeon General’s Report by moving decisively to exercise its statutory authority to require cigarette manufacturers to make necessary life-saving changes in the design and composition of their products." 

A landmark 2009 law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco products, including the authority to require changes in the content and design of cigarettes “appropriate for the protection of public health.” Before this law, tobacco companies were free to manufacture and change their products without government oversight.

Among its key recommendations for accelerating progress in reducing tobacco use, the new Surgeon General’s report calls for “effective implementation of FDA’s authority for tobacco product regulation in order to reduce tobacco product addictiveness and harmfulness.”  It also states that “if the risk of lung cancer has increased with changes in the design and composition of cigarettes, then the potential exists to reverse that increase in risk through changes in design and composition.” 

According to the new Surgeon General’s report, “Although the prevalence of smoking has declined significantly over the past half-century, the risks for smoking-related disease and mortality have not.  In fact, today’s cigarette smokers – both men and women – have a much higher risk for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than smokers in 1964, despite smoking fewer cigarettes.”

In addition to its findings that cigarettes are more dangerous today, the new Surgeon General’s report incorporates the finding of U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in her 2006 civil racketeering judgment against the major U.S. cigarette manufacturers that the cigarette companies “have designed their cigarettes to precisely control nicotine delivery levels and provide doses of nicotine sufficient to create and sustain addiction.”

While the U.S. has cut smoking rates by more than half since 1964, 18.1 percent of American adults still smoke and tobacco use remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable death. Each year, tobacco use kills 480,000 Americans and costs the nation at least $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses, according to the new Surgeon General’s report.

The groups’ letter concludes: “Over the past 50 years, smoking has killed more than 20 million Americans. We cannot afford to give the tobacco industry another 50 years to make cigarettes even more dangerous and addictive than they are today.” 

The groups signing the letter: American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Oral Medicine, American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Cancer Research, American Association for Respiratory Care, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American College of Cardiology, American College of Preventive Medicine, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Thoracic Society, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, Legacy®, Lung Cancer Alliance, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, National Association of County & City Health Officials, National Latino Alliance for Health Equity, North American Quitline Consortium, Oncology Nursing Society, Partnership for Prevention, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco.

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