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July 28, 2017

FDA’s Tobacco Plan Could Save Lives

(New York, USA) – Vital Strategies today welcomed an announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding its intention to decrease the burden of tobacco-related harm in the USA by regulating nicotine levels and, potentially, flavorings in tobacco products. Nicotine is proven to be addictive and is what makes quitting smoking so difficult for many tobacco users. Candy flavorings and others help to hook youth on tobacco products by masking their real taste and, in the case of menthol, cooling the throat to seemingly reduce irritation. Strong action on these issues could have a real impact on decreasing the tobacco epidemic – particularly if other countries also decide to regulate nicotine and flavorings.

However, action cannot be driven by the tobacco industry, which judging from past experience will seek to weaken and endlessly delay any regulation to suit its own agenda. As an example, the tobacco industry in the USA has been successful in preventing the implementation of graphic health warnings on tobacco packs even as they have become commonplace – and have helped to drive reductions in smoking prevalence – in many low, middle and high income countries around the world.

Furthermore, if addressing addiction is a key intention, the FDA’s announcement delivers a mixed message in seeking to reduce the addictiveness of traditional tobacco products, while delaying proper regulation of their newer counterparts like e-cigarettes and heat not burn products. There must be a concern that industry lobbying played a role in this decision – from both smaller concerns like the e-cigarette company where FDA Commissioner Dr Gottlieb had a seat on the board, to the multinational tobacco companies hoping to sell novel products to offset future declines in sales of traditional cigarettes.

José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies commented: “The devastating health and economic burden of tobacco use is completely unsustainable. Each year, it costs hundreds of thousands of lives and many millions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost earnings and productivity in the US alone. Next week sees World Lung Cancer Day, when we mark that this terrible disease is the most common cause of cancer-related death among men and second-most common cause of cancer-related death among women. Worryingly, the number of cases is still increasing, because the number of smokers around the globe remains stubbornly high: more than 85 percent of lung cancer cases are linked to direct tobacco use. Only strong tobacco control measures can change this scenario.

“Properly implemented and enforced, action on nicotine levels and flavorings could help to make a real difference. And it would provide an opportunity for the USA to show leadership in global health. Around the world, the tobacco industry has been aggressive in increasing its sales of flavored tobacco products in order to appeal to youth and women too. If the USA acts, other countries may follow. The need for action is urgent. If the USA wants to reap the health and economic benefits, these policies cannot become bogged down in the federal review process or by tobacco industry obstruction. Health must take priority. We will watch future developments with interest.”

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or tjohnston@vitalstrategies.org

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