FDA to Target Underage Tobacco Use

Zeller launches new media initiative; speaks about e-cigs, tobacco, cigars

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

Mitch Zeller

Mitch Zeller

WASHINGTON -- Mitch Zeller promised more openness and hinted at a certain open-mindedness shortly after assuming the role of the nation's top tobacco watchdog earlier this year.

Toward that end, Zeller, head of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), held a wide-ranging webinar Wednesday, which CSP Daily News covered live via Twitter and which was viewed by scores of tobacco shop and convenience store retailers.

Longer on rhetoric and vision than hard policy, Zeller announced a new national advertising initiative for 2014, targeting at-risk 12- to-17-year-olds across rural and urban markets with the sole aim of halting them before they start smoking.

His actions were prompted by a sobering fact: some 300,000 minors pick up the smoking habit annually. "Think of them as the replacement smokers," he said. "We've got to do something to change that."

The initiative was the only major policy announcement during an 18-slide presentation, followed by a Q&A session.

Zeller addressed other issues:

  • Electronic Cigarettes: Zeller acknowledged electronic cigarettes' growing popularity and that his agency continues to investigate how it will regulate this emerging sector. He cited anecdotal evidence praising e-cigarettes as a cessation device for long-term smokers, but said the agency must also forecast the long-term impact e-cigarettes could yield. For instance, he lamented, "CDC report showed youth e-cig use doubled … there are people who challenged that, but the data is what the data is." This point echoed an earlier message during which he explained the legal role of the FDA--"the FDA must look at both individual-level risk and population-level harm."
  • Cigars: On a question concerning regulation of cigars, especially singles and mini-packs, Zeller pointed to conversations with suppliers in the industry and hinted at a different approach between premium and lower-end cigars. "I've gotten the message that there may be differences with premium cigars that the FDA needs to take into account." Specifically, he said, the claim that minors do not buy more expensive cigars.
  • Tobacco: Zeller noted that tobacco remains the country's No. 1 most preventable disease, contributing to 440,000 deaths annually. "The public challenge brought me back to the agency," he said of his return to the FDA, where he worked in 1993.He also said,"We regulate an extremely addictive and toxic product. ... people smoke for the nicotine and die from the tar."

The CTP also posted ways for individuals and businesses to reach the agency. For questions, email: [email protected]; to receive CTP emailed updates, go to http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/ResourcesforYou/ucm176164.htm or follow CTP on Twitter: @FDATobacco.

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