Momentous Bill to Regulate Tobacco – National Consumers League

By Amos Budde, NCL Public Policy Intern

Amos Budde is a rising senior and Mathematics major at Brown University, also studying Economics and Public Policy. He hails from Minneapolis, MN and is excited to be working on consumer rights issues with the National Consumers League.

There was strong bipartisan support for consumer rights last week, as both the Senate and the House passed legislation by wide margins allowing the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco. President Obama has said he intends to sign the bill.

Tobacco has long been a hold-out in the regulatory system, as tobacco companies have spent millions each year lobbying against FDA regulation. Meanwhile, smoking continues to be linked to 400,000 deaths annually and results in enormous medical costs for the treatment of smoking-related illnesses. While smoking will never be part of a healthy lifestyle, we consumers will now be better able to tell what ingredients are in tobacco products, and the FDA will work to ensure that the inclusion of dangerous chemicals is limited to a safe amount.

Congress will also give the FDA strict rules on the marketing of tobacco, especially to adolescents. Candy and sweet flavoring in tobacco products will be banned, and tobacco companies can no longer use words such as “light,” or “low” that suggest that the products are less dangerous. Check out Project Vote Smart to learn more about some of the major provisions of the bill.

This is all welcome news. Tobacco companies in the past have offered to voluntarily curb their marketing to teens, but these efforts have failed to reduce the number of under-age smokers. This bill provides comprehensive reform on the relationship between tobacco companies and consumers, and will allow us more informed decisions when it comes to using tobacco.

Interestingly, tobacco giant Phillip Morris has been a staunch supporter of the new rules and regulations, while smaller rivals have been opposed. Increased regulation will be a larger burden on smaller tobacco companies, and a restriction on advertisement makes it difficult for new brands to enter the market. This allows the already popular Philip Morris brands to benefit from reduced competition, and democrats and republicans alike have benefited from having such a powerful corporate ally in a bill to regulate tobacco.

While this is a landmark moment for consumer rights, it will still require active review of the lobbying efforts of Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies. Now that the power is with the FDA, we need to make sure the regulation still focuses on the consumer.  Keeping us safe and able to make informed decisions should be the FDA’s top priority.