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February 9, 2014

Experts increasingly contemplate end of smoking

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — The bigger goal is to reduce U.S. smoking-related deaths to fewer than 10,000, from the current level of 480,000. But even if smoking rates dropped to zero immediately, it would take decades to see that benefit, since smoking-triggered cancers can take decades to develop.

But while some experts and advocates are swinging for the fences, others are more pessimistic. They say the key to reaching such goals is not simply more taxes and more local smoking bans, but action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate smoking.

A 2009 federal law gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products. The law barred FDA from outright blocking the sale of cigarettes, but the agency was free to take such pivotal steps as prohibiting the use of appealing menthol flavoring in cigarettes and requiring cigarette makers to ratchet down the amount of addictive nicotine in each smoke.

But nearly five years after gaining power over cigarettes, FDA has yet to even propose such regulations. Agency officials say they’re working on it.

Many believe FDA’s delay is driven by defense preparations for an anticipated battery of legal and political challenges.

A spokesman for Altria Group Inc., the maker of Marlboro, said the company supports FDA exercising its regulatory authority over tobacco products. But as a whole, the industry has tended to fight regulation. Some of the nation’s largest tobacco companies — though not Altria — sued to stop FDA-proposed graphic warning labels on cigarette packs. A federal court blocked the ads.

“The industry makes money as long as they can delay regulation,” said Kenneth Warner, a University of Michigan public health professor who is a leading authority on smoking and health.

BIG RED NUMBER 10 Projected percentage of people who smoke by 2024. It's 18 percent now.

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