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New FDA rules restrict tobacco marketing to kids

Marketing tobacco products to kids and teens will be restricted under new FDA rules to be published Friday.

By Ron Scherer/ Staff writer / March 18, 2010

New York

For the first time, the US government is setting new national rules and regulations on the advertising and marketing of tobacco products.

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On Thursday, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, said the new rules are aimed at cutting the appeal of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products for children and adolescents.

“The historic rule we are issuing today will help our kids stay healthy and make it harder for the tobacco companies to target them with harmful and addictive products,” said Ms. Sebelius at a press conference in Washington.

The rules will be published on Friday by the US Food and Drug Administration and will go into effect June 22.

The new FDA rules prohibit a fairly wide gamut of tobacco marketing efforts – from sponsorships to free giveaways to the sale or distribution of free hats or T-shirts.

In addition, the rules prohibit the sale of loose cigarettes and the sale of cigarettes in vending machines except in adult-only locations. They also ban tobacco companies from giving away free samples of cigarettes.

The FDA plans to give grants to states to enforce the rules, said Margaret Hamburg, the FDA’s commissioner. She said violators will get warning letters and could receive fines or other civil penalties.

More young people are smoking

The FDA’s efforts come at a time when America is once again losing the battle to prevent kids from smoking. According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2.4 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 tried cigarettes for the first time, compared with 1.9 million in 2002 and 2.1 million in 2004.

For every 4,000 children who try a cigarette for the first time, 1,000 become daily smokers, Sebelius said. Surveys have found that 90 percent of smokers start smoking before age 18, the new national minimum age to buy cigarettes set by the new FDA rules, she added.

Public-health advocates call the new federal regulations an important first step, since it applies to all tobacco companies operating in all states.

“It expands significantly the existing restrictions,” says Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.