By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 5:42 PM
Federal officials said Tuesday that they hope a new ban against cigarettes flavored to taste like sweet foods will cut down on the number of children and young adults who pick up the smoking habit.
"Flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become smokers," said Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
The ban -- which took effect Tuesday -- makes it illegal to manufacture, ship or sell cigarettes flavored to taste like cloves, candy or fruit. It is part of a sweeping new tobacco law that was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in June.
One notable exemption from the new law is menthol-flavored cigarettes, which remain legal. Congress declined to ban menthol cigarettes, which are by far the most popular type of flavored tobacco and a significant source of revenue for tobacco companies. Instead, Congress directed the FDA to study whether menthol should eventually be added to the list of banned flavorings.
Each day, about 3,600 young people between ages 12 and 17 try cigarettes, and children are three times as likely as adults to smoke a flavored cigarette, said Lawrence Deyton, the new director of the fledgling FDA Center for Tobacco. Deyton said his agency contacted manufacturers and retailers last week to remind them of the ban. He said a team of FDA workers will begin meeting daily, starting Wednesday, to review any reports of violations and decide how to respond. The public can report violations by calling a toll-free hotline, 877-CTP-1373, or by visiting the FDA Web site at http://www.fda.gov/flavoredtobacco.
The new law, which comes 50 years after the surgeon general first warned about the health effects of tobacco, gives the FDA broad new authority to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products. Tobacco-related illnesses are blamed for one in every five deaths in the United States.
Under the law, the tobacco industry will have to disclose the ingredients in its products for the first time, and the FDA could ban the most harmful of the estimated 6,000 chemicals used in cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. It could also reduce the amount of nicotine, perhaps to a point where tobacco is no longer addictive and smokers who want to quit can break their habit more easily.
The law also requires tobacco companies to expand the size of warning labels so that they cover 50 percent of a pack, and to include graphic images of the health effects of tobacco, such as images of diseased lungs. Congress required warning labels on cigarette packs in 1965 and updated them in 1984.
Advertising and promotion will also be restricted. Tobacco manufacturers are now unable to use the terms "light," "mild" and "low" unless they can scientifically prove that the product so labeled is less harmful than standard tobacco.
The tobacco center at the FDA is being funded by new fees imposed on the industry. Those fees are estimated to reach more than $500 million annually by 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office.