The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has, for the first time, exercised new authority to regulate what cigarette products are safe enough to be sold on the market. The agency announced on Tuesday that it has rejected four new proposed cigarette types (while approving two other ones) under powers it gained under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009.
Before President Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act, regulation of cigarettes was largely limited to how they could be advertised and what age groups they could be sold to, leaving tobacco manufacturers near carte blanche over what to put into their products. Those ingredients include carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde, toxic metals like arsenic, and poisonous materials such as ammonia, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen cyanide.
Now, the FDA can reject a new product if it finds its chemical makeup to be harmful — and on Tuesday, it did. “This is the first time in history that a federal agency has told tobacco companies that they could not market a new or modified cigarette because of the public health problems they pose,” Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, explained in an interview with the New York Times.
Although the agency isn’t allowed to disclose which products it denied, FDA official Mitchell Zeller told the Times that several of the proposed cigarettes were rejected due to public health concerns over “more added chemicals than a similar product currently being sold” and incomplete information about their ingredients.
U.S. smoking rates have fallen dramatically in recent years — but just under 20 percent of American adults still smoke, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Smoking-related illnesses add $96 billion to Americans health care costs every year — much of which is borne by U.S. taxpayers, since poorer Americans on public assistance such as Medicaid tend to have higher smoking rates.