Washington No more “light” cigarettes or candy-flavored smokes. Bigger, scarier warning labels. Fewer ads featuring sexy young smokers.
Historic anti-smoking legislation sped to final congressional passage on Friday — after a bitter fight lasting nearly a half-century — and lawmakers and the White House quickly declared it would save the lives of thousands of smokers of all ages. Even more important, they said, the measure could keep countless young people from starting in the first place.
President Barack Obama, admittedly still struggling with his own nicotine habit, saluted passage of the bill, which he will soon sign. He said, “For over a decade, leaders of both parties have fought to prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children and provide the public with the information they need to understand what a dangerous habit this is.”
Specifically, the measure for the first time will give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate what goes into tobacco products, demand changes or elimination of toxic substances and block the introduction of new products.
The thousand health and consumer groups that endorsed the bill say that, combined with other anti-smoking efforts, it can significantly reduce the 400,000 deaths and $100 billion in health care costs attributed every year to smoking in the U.S.
Under the legislation:
• Cigarette packages will have warning labels that cover 50 percent of the front and rear. The word “warning” must be included in capital letters.
• Any remaining tobacco-related sponsorships of sports and entertainment events will be banned, as will giveaways of nontobacco items with the purchase of a tobacco product. A federal ban will be imposed on all outdoor tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.
• Point-of-sale advertising will be limited to adults-only facilities, and remaining vending machines will disappear except in places restricted to adults. Retailers who sell to minors will be subject to federal enforcement and penalties.
• Smokers, particularly the younger crowd, will find they can no longer buy cigarettes sweetened by candy flavors or any herb or spices such as strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon or vanilla. Cigarettes advertised as “light” or “mild,” giving the impression that they aren’t as harmful to health, will no longer be found on store shelves.
With an estimated 3,500 young people smoking their first cigarette each day, the ban on flavorings alone could have significant health benefits, said Dr. Adam Goldstein, director of the University of North Carolina Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program.
He said it was not inconceivable that adult smokers, now more than 20 percent of the population, could be reduced to less than 5 percent in 20 years.