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Report Urges New Antismoking Efforts

Institute of Medicine Calls for Higher Taxes on Cigarettes and New Curbs on Marketing
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 24, 2007 -- The Institute of Medicine (IOM) on Thursday endorsed steep cigarette tax increases and broad new FDA powers to steer the nation away from smoking.

A report from the group essentially urges the nation to create an unfriendly environment for tobacco marketers through new regulation, smoking bans, increased prices, and marketing curbs.

Without such drastic changes, the experts warned that little progress will be made in cutting the estimated 500,000 Americans who die each year from smoking and secondhand smoke.

"The committee believes maintaining our current course will not end the tobacco problem," says Richard J. Bonnie, a University of Virginia professor of law and psychiatry who led the committee issuing the report.

Adult smoking rates are half what they were four decades ago. But one-fifth of American adults smoke, and nearly as many high school seniors report taking up cigarettes each year.

Call for Higher Taxes

The report calls for a near tripling of federal tobacco taxes from its current level of 39 cents per pack to a dollar or more. It also calls on states with lower taxes to boost them in order to levy a combined tax of up to $2 per pack.

"Whenever price goes up, consumption is affected," Bonnie says.

New Jersey has the highest state cigarette tax in the nation at $2.58 per pack, while Missouri charges just 17 cents per pack in taxes, the nation's lowest, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The national average is $1.04, too low to strongly discourage both youth and adults from purchasing cigarettes, the report concludes.

Antismoking Regulations

The report also calls on Congress to give the FDA or another regulatory agency broad new authority to regulate the chemical content, sales, and marketing of cigarettes.

The committee called for new laws and regulations to:

  • Strengthen health warnings on cigarette packs.
  • Limit tobacco advertising to a black-and-white text-only format.
  • Prohibit tobacco companies from distributing information to children under 18 or taking surveys of children younger than 18.
  • Gradually reduce cigarettes' nicotine content in an effort to make smoking less addictive.

Congress for years has debated giving FDA the power to restrict smoking. One attempt to expand FDA's authority was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2000. Lawmakers could vote again this year on a bill granting the authority.

"Hopefully, the IOM's powerful call to action will be the irresistible force that finally compels the Senate and House to act," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the bill's current sponsor, says in a statement.

The report also calls for a complete ban on smoking in all nonresidential buildings, including restaurants, shopping centers, and offices. Some cities, including New York, have passed strict curbs on smoking, though laws vary widely throughout the country.

States should also ban tobacco sales through the mail and over the Internet, experts urged.

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