When the Obama administration signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act into law, the public was assured that this bill would squash the problem of youth smoking, once and for all. Three years later, the bill’s proponents are congratulating each other on their success. But how successful was the FSPCA, really? It depends on your definition of success. The act has done exactly what it set out to do; namely, convey the image of a government adamantly against Big Tobacco. Has the FSPCA actually curbed youth smoking? Not in the slightest.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act fought hard to have flavored cigarettes removed from the market. Rather than removing menthol (the only “flavor” which a large percentage of smokers, and more importantly, teens, purchase), the bill exempted that particular flavor and focused on variants like chocolate or strawberry. The result? One-tenth of one percent of cigarettes were removed from the market.
In addition to the removal of flavored cigarettes, the FSPCA further enforced the laws against marketing cigarettes with misleading information; it cracked down on merchants who sell tobacco products to minors and banned tobacco companies from sponsoring concerts and sporting events. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? It’s not.
A 1999 Department of Justice lawsuit mandated that every tobacco company overhaul its ads and its packaging or face stiff penalties. This means that there were very few companies subject to the FSPCA’s mandate against misleading information. The number of tobacco producers who were violating the 1999 ruling were so few, their removal from the market had a negligible effect on youth-smoking.
Enforcement of age-restrictions did little to decrease the instance of teen tobacco use. While some merchants do occasionally sell tobacco products to minors, there have been numerous studies proving that most kids actually get cigarettes from a parent or friend. If the FSPCA somehow managed to ensure that no retailer ever sold a cigarette to a minor again, it would still have a limited impact on the number of underage youth who smoke.
Lastly, tobacco companies have been barred from sponsoring events which might be attended by underage teens for quite some time. The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 heavily restricted a cigarette brand’s ability to be a named sponsor. The FSPCA simply added to the restrictions already in place. These added limitations have done little to affect teen smoking, one way or the other.
Despite FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s self-serving congratulations on the success of the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, it’s clear that the bill had no real impact on youth-smoking. The FSPCA has, however, been incredibly successful in distracting the public from the government’s true intention: preserving the interests of domestic tobacco producers.