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Experts Call for FDA Regulation of Tobacco Products

2-year project also urges higher cigarette taxes, more oversight of advertising claims

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 25 (HealthDay News) -- All tobacco products in the United States should be regulated by the federal government, according to a report released Wednesday by a panel of 26 of the nation's leading tobacco control researchers and policy experts.

"Bold thinking is required to reverse the catastrophic projections for tobacco-caused deaths in this century," panel co-chair Mitchell Zeller, a health policy expert with Pinney Associates and a former associate commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in a University of Minnesota news release.

During a two-year process called The Strategic Dialogue on Tobacco Harm Reduction, the experts developed recommendations on ways to regulate tobacco products based on public health needs, as well as ways to help tobacco users who are unable or unwilling to quit to switch to the least harmful nicotine products.

The group recommended:

  • Regulation of harmful compounds in all tobacco products.
  • Regulation of all aspects of tobacco promotion, advertising and labeling.
  • A ban on claims of reductions in users' exposure to harmful components in tobacco or smoke unless there is sufficient scientific evidence that there is also a reduction in health risk.
  • Accurate education of the public about the relative risks of different nicotine-containing products.
  • Higher taxes on cigarettes.
  • Expanded anti-tobacco advertising.
  • Strong programs to encourage and support people's efforts to stop using tobacco.

The recommendations appear online in the journal Tobacco Control.

Under what they called the "continuum of risk," the experts also noted that cigarettes are the most dangerous tobacco product and that medicinal nicotine products, such as nicotine gum and patches, are less harmful than oral tobacco products.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States and costs the nation nearly $200 billion a year. This year, nearly 440,000 people in the United States will die from tobacco-related illnesses. This century, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide will die prematurely from tobacco use -- a 10-fold increase over the 20th century -- if current trends continue.

"Our report is a blueprint," Dialogue chair Dorothy Hatsukami, director of the University of Minnesota's Tobacco Use Research Center and Masonic Cancer Center's Cancer Control and Prevention Programs, said in a university news release. "It lays out the key elements of a science-based regulatory program and policies to shift current tobacco users away from cigarettes. With these policies and programs, we believe that the death toll from cigarette smoking and other tobacco use can be reduced dramatically."

"Simply put, there is no 'one size fits all' method to quit or reduce smoking," Zeller added. "The public health community has failed to provide appropriate guidelines on all the evidence-based methods available so that smokers concerned about their health but who find themselves unable or unwilling to quit have options on how to quit smoking successfully."

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide for quitting smoking.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Minnesota, news release, Feb. 25, 2009

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