Tobacco Control Act: Filling in the Gaps with Show and Tell

By Daniella Matthews-Trigg
Program Associate
Tobacco Control Act: Filling in the Gaps with Show and Tell

I just got off of a very informative webinar with members of the FDA, the Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing (a project of the American Lung Association in California) and the Technical Assistance Legal Center (a project of Public Health Law and Policy) along with community tobacco-control activists, explaining what exactly the Federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (aka the Tobacco Control Act) does…and how it is affects, and inspires, local tobacco-control policy.

The federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed by Obama in 2009, gave the FDA authority over tobacco products for the first time.

Two significant parts of the law are the rules around warning labels on tobacco packaging and advertisements, as well as the ban on sales of flavored cigarettes.

The webinar today focused on the regulation and enforcement of the tobacco control act by the FDA, as well as legal challenges and filling in the gaps of the law with the creation of local ordinances.

Ann Simoneau, Director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement at the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, spoke about the FDA’s regulatory progress since the law was created and the actions taken by the FDA to enforce the law.

Elisa Laird-Metke, TALC staff attorney, discussed the restrictions on tobacco products contained in the federal law and regulations, and the pending lawsuits that are currently affecting the law’s enforcement.

Lastly, Vanessa Marvin, Director of the Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing (a project of the American Lung Association in California), spoke with Anne Pearson and Janie Burkhart,  who both worked on passing local flavored tobacco bans in New York City and Santa Clara County, CA. (Note: While the Tobacco control act bans flavored cigarettes, it does not ban other flavored tobacco products)

New York City is the first city in the country to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products. Anne Pearson talked about the rationale for the ban, which was that flavored tobacco products are made to appeal to kids, and the opposition from the cigar industry, which lobbied for a cigar exemption saying that cigars aren’t smoked by youth, which we know is untrue. Miss Pearson’s advice to others trying to pass local bans is to be able to show the scope of the problem in the local area, and prove that tobacco is a problem. In New York they presented both data AND tobacco products, and policy makers were shocked at how obviously targeted the products were to youth.

I was especially interested in the “show and tell” method used by the local activists to showcase and explain the targeting of youth by tobacco companies, as well as the idea that while waiting for local government to regulate (things such as flavored tobacco), local governments must step in.

These ideas are all easily applicable to tobacco-control in the LGBT community- Showing policy makers examples of LGBT targeting in the form of sponsorships and advertising, and then telling them about the disparities through data.

While the Tobacco Control Act was (and still is) a huge step forward in tobacco-control, it is also a jumping off point for more local and community-based activism, especially around groups such as youth and the LGBT population, that have especially high rates of tobacco use.

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