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FDA bans flavored cigarettes

Catherine Larkin and Chris Burritt
Bloomberg News
September 24, 2009

Tobacco companies can no longer sell candy-, spice-, or fruit-flavored cigarettes in the United States, regulators said, acting to enforce a ban signed into law in June by President Obama.

Making, selling, or shipping cigarettes, rolling papers, or filters with flavors such as clove, cinnamon, and strawberry may result in sanctions as of Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration said in a letter to makers led by Altria Group Inc. and Philip Morris USA.

Congress gave the FDA power to regulate the $80-billion-a-year tobacco industry after a decadelong fight. The law banned most flavored cigarettes, advertising to children, and the introduction of products without scientific review. Menthol, the most popular flavored cigarette and the one preferred by blacks, was allowed to stay on the market over objections from seven former U.S. secretaries of Health and Human Services.

"These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said Tuesday in a statement.

Companies that violate the ban may be fined, have products seized, or face criminal prosecution, according to the letter. The agency also is "examining options for regulating both menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes," the FDA said.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in this country, killing about 443,000 people a year, including 49,000 from secondhand exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies show that 17-year-olds are three times more likely to use flavored cigarettes than people over 25, according to the FDA. The agency is encouraging people to report any flavored cigarettes that remain on the market.

The three biggest U.S. tobacco companies say they do not produce any flavored cigarettes other than menthol varieties.

"We do not believe any of the cigarettes that we manufacture have a characterizing flavor that is banned by this provision," David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second-largest producer, said.

Philip Morris USA, the maker of the top-selling Marlboro brand, sells no cigarettes covered by the ban, said David Sylvia, an Altria spokesman. Nor does third-biggest Lorillard Inc., said Hannah Sloane, a company spokeswoman.

North Carolina makers Reynolds, of Winston Salem, and Lorillard, of Greensboro, opposed FDA regulation, saying restrictions would perpetuate Philip Morris' dominance and discourage novel products that may be less harmful.

 

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