Big Tobacco’s Next Assault And How We Can Stop It
Elisa Laird-MetkeElisa Laird-Metke is a staff attorney specializing in legal issues involving product marketing, the retail environment, and exposure to secondhand smoke. Prior to joining ChangeLab Solutions, Elisa litigated consumer protection, civil rights, and employment class action lawsuits. Before law school, she worked as a sign language interpreter and was the first deaf services coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Elisa graduated cum laude from East Carolina University and received her law degree from Golden Gate University.
It’s harder for smokers to find places to light up these days – cigarettes face increasing regulation and heavy taxation around the world. But the tobacco industry isn’t worried. Just last month, the chief executive of Reynolds American, the parent company of R.J. Reynolds, touted to stockholders a 35 percent increase in net income and a profitable future ahead.
The tobacco industry is so optimistic because they are diversifying their product lines to hook new users:
- First, redesigning their existing products to circumvent current regulations plus make them more appealing to kids – and get them hooked early.
- Second, creating entirely new, unregulated products that will keep kids addicted as adults.
Without swift and effective policy change, we’re going to raise a new generation addicted to Big Tobacco’s harmful products.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study revealing that while cigarette use has declined over the past decade, use of “little cigars” has more than doubled in the last ten years. Tobacco companies are circumventing a 2009 Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ban on flavored cigarettes by offering nearly the same flavored product re-labeled as a “cigar.”
That marketing trick has successfully attracted a population already at risk. A separate new CDC study found cigar use since 2009 has especially increased among teens – particularly African-American teens.
Emerging Products Also Threaten
The danger does not just come from “little cigars.” New tobacco products like snus – a spitless snuff that comes in a teabag-like pouch – and dissolvable candy-like pellets that contain tobacco are already marketed alongside even newer products that contain nicotine but no tobacco at all, including gum, lozenges, and electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. Annual sales of e-cigarettes, which give consumers inhaled doses of vaporized, often flavored, nicotine, are expected to top $1 billion in the next few years.
Some of these new products might prove less harmful than cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe–no one knows what swallowing tobacco or inhaling nicotine vapor will do to the body over time. These new products can also discourage current smokers from kicking the habit by providing a “bridge” between cigarettes. And new products that are flavored or resemble candy are clearly designed to get young people hooked on nicotine early, setting them up for a lifetime as tobacco industry consumers.
There are more products being added to the research and development pipeline all the time. Waiting until these products have a toehold in the marketplace makes it even harder to build the political will needed to limit their access.
Hope at the Local and State Level
The FDA has announced its intention to regulate some new tobacco products, but the federal regulatory process can be cumbersome. A more effective approach is for local and state governments to step in, taking advantage of the relatively nimble speed at which they can adopt new legislation and the ability to tailor it to local needs. Local and state leaders can use measures like the following:
- Tax all tobacco at the rate cigarettes are taxed, to raise the price and therefore reduce demand for cheap products like little cigars,
- Limit the number or type of retailers permitted to sell nicotine products,
- Ban small package sizes to make the products more expensive (and therefore less accessible to young people), and
- Make sure those under 18 can’t buy non-tobacco products (like e-cigarettes and nicotine gum) just as they cannot legally buy tobacco.
Big Tobacco is in the business of making it easier for everyone to access addictive products proven to be unhealthy. But we can stay ahead of them and protect our kids from this ever-changing assault. Let’s prevent these new products from getting in the hands of even more new users.