Ranking Member Waxman Releases New Tobacco Documents And Calls on FDA to Protect Youth by Closing Tobacco Loopholes

Aug 27, 2012

Today, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg describing new tobacco industry documents that show tobacco companies are manipulating their products to exploit regulatory and tax loopholes.  According to the letter, new data released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that these tobacco industry strategies have resulted in alarming use of unregulated flavored cigars by young adults.

Rep. Waxman is joining local Los Angeles health leaders for a press conference in Los Angeles at noon PDT to discuss the implications of the tobacco industry documents and address the new findings from CDC on current cigar use among young adults.

“The tobacco industry is relentless in seeking new ways to hook children,” said Rep. Waxman.  “After Congress outlawed flavorings in cigarettes, tobacco companies began promoting cigarette-like cigars and pipe tobacco as a way to circumvent the flavoring ban and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  Today I am calling on FDA to take immediate and forceful action to close these loopholes and protect the public’s health.”

“It’s time the tobacco companies stop playing games with our kids’ health,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, the Third District Los Angeles County Supervisor, who is joining Rep. Waxman at today’s press conference.  “Whatever nicotine-delivery system they’re trying to sell, leave our young people out of it.”

Although cigarette use has declined since the 1990s, much of the recent decline has been offset by a huge surge in the consumption of cigars and pipe tobacco.  According to the new CDC data, nearly one in five young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 now smoke cigars, which is three times the prevalence of cigar smoking among older adults.  The new CDC data also show that most of these young adults are smoking cigars with candy, fruit, or other flavorings, not traditional cigars.

The internal tobacco company documents reveal that the tobacco companies have been manipulating their products to take advantage of regulatory and tax loopholes.  Laws passed by Congress in 2009 banned flavorings in cigarettes and raised tax rates on cigarettes, smaller cigars, and roll-your-own tobacco.  Internal company documents show that some tobacco manufacturers responded by introducing new lines of cigars and pipe tobacco, which are not currently regulated by FDA or subject to the flavoring ban and would be taxed at significantly lower rates.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gives FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products that are used as substitutes for cigarettes.  Rep. Waxman’s letter urges the FDA Commissioner to take this step to close the loopholes being exploited by the tobacco companies and protect the health of youth.

The letter is available online here.

Update: Read the response from HHS