1. Possible Changes to Federal Tobacco Policy

    May 1, 2019

    By Jason Golec, BA

    On April 18th, Rep. Pallone (D-NJ) and Shalala (D-FL) introduced the “Revising the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019”. The bill in itself proposes innovative regulatory action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to curb youth tobacco use.

    The legislation comes at a very urgent time in tobacco prevention. In 2018, 3.6 million middle and high school students used electronic cigarettes within the past 30-days of being survey, this is a 78% increase from the year before. Adolescent use of e-cigarettes brings concern for two reasons: first, nicotine is known to harm brain development which continues until a person’s early to mid-20s; second, there is significant concern that adolescent use of e-cigarettes is a gateway to cigarette use or dual-use between the products.

    The newly introduced legislation plans to combat adolescent use of tobacco products in a variety of approaches. Here are 5 key takeaways….

    • The bill aims to have a final decision on “Graphic Cigarette Health Warnings”. Within the bill, it states that no longer than a year after its enactment, it aims to have the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make a decision on whether tobacco products should have colored graphic warnings on them. Other countries have made this policy choice and they have found mixed results on its effectiveness of decreasing youth smoking initiation.
    • The bill aims to prohibit the sale of all tobacco products to people less than 21 years old. Currently, 30% of the United States is covered by local and state-wide policies which make the minimum age of tobacco purchases 21 years (also known as T21). In fact, over 75% of Americans favor T21 policy. It is predicted that country-wide T21 legislation can drop smoking initiation rates of high schoolers by 25%. Recently, Sen. McConnell announced that he will be introducing T21 legislation in the Senate, however, there is great concern that this legislation may be a win for the tobacco industry because it might lack other provisions to curb youth tobacco use such as restrictions on flavors and e-cigarettes.
    • Online sales would be prohibited. The bill states that the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, will be prohibited “other than retail sales through a direct, face-to-face exchange between a retailer and a consumer.” Currently, there are not much age verification processes for online sales. Youth can purchase products online simply by lying about their age, no other identification is required. The bill would prohibit all online sales in order to limit youth circumventing the process.
    • Flavor tobacco products would be prohibited. Currently, flavored cigarettes (other than menthol) are prohibited. Flavored mini-cigars (cigarellos) and e-cigarettes face no restrictions. The bill will restrict any artificial flavor (other than tobacco) which compromises the natural flavor of products. Nearly, 81% of youth smokers report that the first product they used was Almost, 80% of current youth tobacco users report that they currently use flavored tobacco products, astoundingly, almost 75% of flavored product users report that they would no longer use the product if it wasn’t flavored. There is significant research which suggests that posing restrictions on flavors may reduce youth tobacco use. After New York City passed a flavor ban on tobacco products (excluding menthol flavors and e-cigarettes) in 2010, youth aged 13 to 17 had 37 percent lower odds of ever trying flavored tobacco products in 2013 than they did in 2010. Flavor restrictions have significant promise on reducing youth use and can be even more powerful when paired with T21 legislation.
    • The bill would pass provisions that restrict advertising of tobacco products to people less than 21 years old.  The bill states that it will be unlawful “to market, advertise, or promote any electronic nicotine delivery system in a manner that appeals to an individual under 21 years of age.” This is a significant step in the right direction against big tobacco. Considering that e-cigarette companies such as JUUL  have come under fire for advertising their products to youth, policy which explicitly outlines the unlawfulness of advertising to youth is important.

    Overall, the Revising the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019 shows significant promise against reducing adolescent tobacco use. The bill is currently being reviewed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Hopefully, this bill will be the leading action against youth tobacco use as opposed to phony bills which are backed by big tobacco and only support T21 and no other restrictions.