New, tougher law on smoking a step in right direction

On Friday, Congress passed a bill that increases requirements for warnings on cigarette packages and dramatically limits the ways that the tobacco industry can target teens. The legislation requires cigarette packages to display warnings that cover at least 1/2 of the front and back of the package. “Point of sale” advertising is limited to adults-only venues.

The law also bans flavored cigarettes, and stops companies from billing cigarettes as “light.” Cigarette advertising is banned within 1000 feet of schools and playgrounds, and tobacco companies are forbidden from being sponsors of sports or entertainment events. Though the bill is not perfect, we applaud Congress for taking decisive action to stop young people from becoming smokers.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 20 percent of American highschoolers have smoked a cigarette in the past month. Ninety percent of smokers start before 18, according to one health official. The time is right to take action to stop young people from starting. The health risks of smoking are well-documented. Now we need to combat the impression of smoking as attractive.

Reducing the availability of products that are attractive to young potential smokers (like flavored and “light” cigarettes) and limiting the exposure young people have to tobacco ads will be a significant step in the right direction. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new law will reduce youth smoking by eleven percent and adult smoking by two percent over the next ten years.

The director of the Tobacco Research Network described the bill as “a historic step changing the nature of tobacco in society forever.” It sets a precedent not only in its limits on sales and advertising but in allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products for the first time.

The law comes over forty years after the U.S. surgeon general first called smoking a health hazard. The FDA could force tobacco companies to remove some of the cancer-causing substances in cigarettes, or deter users through bad-tasting additives. An effort to introduce a bill similar to the current one failed in 1994. These restrictions took far to long to become law, but now that they are, will have a significant positive impact.

The new legislation has its limits. It is unlikely that adult smokers will be deterred by the absent of cherry or orange flavored smokes, and tobacco companies will undoubtably come out with other code words to take the place of “light.”

Most people are well aware of the dangers of cigarettes, but the new law seems well equipped to serve its goal of stopping young people from starting to smoke. The US government has been slow to see the light in the regulation of smoking, lagging behind European countries that already require extensive warning labels. It’s about time that Congress is finally catching up.