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What's being done about the way tobacco companies market and manufacture products

What's being done about the way tobacco companies market and manufacture products

A week ago at Med School 101, an annual Stanford event for area high-schoolers, I sat in on a session by tobacco expert Robert Jackler, MD. The Edward C. and Amy H. Sewall Professor in Otorhinolaryngology, Jackler serves as principal investigator of Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising. His session, “Get ‘em young and train ‘em right: How the tobacco industry targets teens,” detailed ways advertising transforms healthy teens into lifelong smokers.

Jackler took an historical view of the gimmicks employed in print and television ads since the mid-twentieth century. (The one I found most disturbingly catchy was this 1952 Old Gold commercial featuring tap-dancing cigarette cartons in what appears to be a mother-daughter duet.) Besides equating smoking with fun and obscuring the real dangers it poses, tobacco companies have worked around bans on flavored cigarettes by sweetening or spicing up various forms of smokeless tobacco, Jackler pointed out.

Fresh from my Med School 101 primer, I was interested to read today about the latest step by the Food and Drug Administration to fight the tobacco epidemic and “prevent misleading marketing about the risks associated with tobacco products.” An FDA release announced its two new guidance documents:

The first document provides guidance on how companies will comply with the requirement to report on the quantities of potentially harmful chemicals in tobacco products. The second document provides guidance to companies that seek to advertise or market a tobacco product as less harmful or associated with reducing the risk of tobacco-related disease.

“We are  forging new territory to ensure that tobacco companies provide accurate information and do not mislead American consumers,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. “We are committed to stopping such practices that may cause people to start or continue using tobacco products that could lead to preventable disease and death.”

An Associated Press article in USA Today provides some more background on the second guidance:

The FDA’s handling of modified-risk products has been highly anticipated by both the public health community and bigger tobacco companies, which are looking for new products to sell as they face declining cigarette demand due to tax increases, health concerns, smoking bans and social stigma.

Previously: How have U.S. tobacco regulations affected smokers?, Study shows anti-tobacco programs targeting adults also curb teen smoking and A conversation about the FDA’s new graphic health warnings for cigarettes
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