Regulate tobacco, institute urges

A report says the FDA needs more authority to set standards.

Published May 25, 2007

WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration should regulate tobacco and develop a plan to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes, the Institute of Medicine urged Thursday.

Its report calls on Congress and the president to give the FDA the authority to enforce standards for nicotine reduction and to regulate companies' claims that their products reduce exposure or risk.

The report notes that cigarettes are unique in that they contain carcinogens and other dangerous toxins and would be banned under federal law if these statutes did not expressly exempt tobacco.

A bill currently before Congress would give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco, but the head of the agency has expressed skepticism.

The report said that while smoking in the United States has declined by more than 50 percent since 1964, tobacco use still claims about 440, 000 lives every year and secondhand smoke causes another 50, 000 deaths annually. Smoking-related health costs are estimated to be $89 billion a year.

Other recommendations of the report include:

- Requiring health insurance plans to provide smoking cessation program benefits.

- Licensing retail outlets that sell tobacco products.

- Launching additional efforts aimed at curbing youth interest in smoking and access to tobacco, including bans on online sales.

- Limiting tobacco advertising and displays to text-only, black-and-white formats.

- Requiring new, large pictorial warnings on the harmful effects of smoking on all cigarette packs and cartons.

Fast Facts:

More homes smoke free

According to a government study released Thursday, smoking is forbidden in nearly three out of four U.S. households, a dramatic increase from the 43 percent of homes that prohibited smoking a decade ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey of 127, 000 households in 2003, said it was the first study to offer a state-by-state look at the prevalence of smoking in American homes.

Utah had the most smoke-free homes, with people in nearly nine out of 10 homes saying smoking was never allowed. Kentucky had the lowest percentage, at just more than half.