NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research NewsNCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
March 6, 2007 • Volume 4 / Number 10 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Director's Update

Proposed Tobacco Legislation Underscores Need for Research

The remarkable decline in smoking rates over the past several decades is a testament to the excellent work of many in the cancer and public health communities. But that does not mean our work on this front is complete.

According to the most recent data, about 21 percent of U.S. adults were current smokers in 2005, but smoking rates were much higher among certain populations, including people with less education and those living in poverty. Tobacco companies, meanwhile, continue to introduce new products, some of which claim to be "reduced harm," and some of the nation's largest cigarette manufacturers are now even getting into the smokeless tobacco market.

It's with that backdrop that the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee last week held a hearing on legislation recently introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) - and cosponsored by senators from both parties - that would grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products.

In its current form, the legislation would grant FDA the authority to:

  • Reinstate a rule promulgated by FDA in 1996 that included significant restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to youth.
  • Restrict advertising and promotion of tobacco products to the full extent permitted by the First Amendment.
  • Require tobacco manufacturers to provide detailed, brand-specific disclosure of ingredients, nicotine, and smoke constituents in their products.
  • Require changes in current and future tobacco products, including the reduction or elimination of harmful ingredients and constituents.
  • Strictly regulate products that would be branded "reduced harm."
  • Require stronger, more-effective health warnings on tobacco products and advertisements, and ban the use of terms such as "light," "mild," or "low" on labels or in advertising.

Important, complex, and unanswered research questions would be raised by additional regulatory authority requirements. Epidemiology and surveillance research would be required to monitor the impact of any modified-risk products introduced into the marketplace, and research would be needed to determine the biological impact of products with lower levels of nicotine and other toxic constituents both on individual and population levels.

NCI's Tobacco Control Research Branch (TCRB) is funding ongoing research on many of the issues raised by tobacco control advocates, including the effects of advertising and promotion on populations most at risk for smoking. Also, NCI is funding two important efforts that address tobacco products claiming to be reduced harm, one focused on testing such products and the other focused on assessing tobacco use behavior and exposure to toxins among users of such products.

Smoking remains the leading cause of premature, preventable death in the United States, accounting for one-third of all cancer deaths. Whatever the outcome of this legislative process, NCI is committed to its ongoing efforts to tackle the scourge of tobacco by funding cutting-edge tobacco control and prevention research.

Dr. John E. Niederhuber
Director, National Cancer Institute