With an annual global death toll of more than 5 million, tobacco is one of the few legal consumer products that lead to death when used as intended by the manufacturer. Without appropriate regulatory intervention this figure is expected to reach 8 million by 2030.
In an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, co-authors Drs. Diana Bowman and Michael Bennett, argue that there is a compelling need for the United States government to consider additional legislative action to address this pressing public health challenge.
“Although we have a comprehensive understanding of the direct and indirect human and economic costs of smoking, legislative and regulatory interventions continue to be highly contested by the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Bowman, associate professor of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center and Department of Health Management and Policy. “Unless there is aggressive measures to curtail this deadly epidemic, it will continue to be problematic from a public health perspective.”
As outlined by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FESPTCA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is authorized to regulate certain dimensions of tobacco, including the labeling of cigarette products.
“The regulations for graphic image labels for cigarette packets issued by the FDA in June 2011 were challenged by the tobacco industry on the grounds that such pictorial warnings violated their First Amendment right to free speech,” Dr. Bennett, associate professor from Northeastern University School of Law said. “Such action effectively undermines the FDA’s authority to regulate in order to protect the public.”
The authors say that Australia is leading the world in tobacco control measures. Despite high profile legal action, Australia introduced the world-first Plain Packaging Act in December 2012, whereby all tobacco products sold must use drab brown packaging free of industry trademark. In addition to plain packaging, increasing taxation, mandatory health warnings, and including graphic images has resulted in a decline in the number of daily smokers from 24.3 percent in 1991 to 15.1 percent in 2010.
“However, the Australian situation differs somewhat from that of the US, particularly given the lack of a Bill of Rights in the Australian Constitution. Australia has also signed and ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC), thus giving rise to a number of international obligations,” Bowman said. “Although the United States is a signatory to the FCTC, it has not ratified the convention and therefore are not bound by the terms of the treaty.”
“In addition to ratifying the FCTC, there are other avenues that the US government may pursue without the threat of constitutional challenges. These include increased taxations and restrictions on the promotion of tobacco products and packaging to make them less appealing to potential smokers,” Bowman said.
According to Bowman and Bennett, overcoming these legal and regulatory challenges is mandatory in order to achieve public health benefits.
For a copy of the article, visit: The American Journal of Public Health