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ADA, others ask Congress to reject tobacco policy riders

September 13, 2018

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — The ADA and more than 50 organizations are asking congressional appropriators to reject proposals that would weaken the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars.

In a Sept. 11 letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees and subcommittees on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, the coalition urged legislators to maintain FDA's authority so that the agency can continue its work to "reduce tobacco use and the health and economic toll" it takes on the nation.

In 2016, the FDA issued a final rule on tobacco products, expanding the agency's authority to regulate all tobacco — including e-cigarettes and cigars. The rule also made it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco products to minors and enabled the agency enforce the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009.

"We agree with FDA's conclusion in 2016 that there is no appropriate public health justification for exempting premium cigars from FDA oversight," the groups wrote, noting that FDA's scientific review found that all cigars are potentially addictive and pose serious negative health risks, including about 9,000 premature deaths a year.

One House appropriations rider would exempt from FDA oversight more than just hand rolled, expensive cigars.

"The rider defines 'large and premium cigars' so broadly that it creates a loophole that manufacturers will surely exploit to exempt cheap, machine-made, flavored cigars from any FDA oversight," they wrote. "These cigars appeal in particular to youth. The prospect of exempting flavored cigars that cost as little as $1 or $2 from any restrictions on flavors, youth access rules and other basic public health protections is troubling given the substantial levels of youth cigar smoking."

The coalition also pointed out that tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and every day, more than 1,800 kids under 18 try cigar smoking for the first time. More than 1.1 million high school students were current smokers in 2017, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

The House rider would also exempt cigars that entered the market between Feb. 15, 2007, and April 25, 2014, from a scientific review of their health risks and appeal to youth.

"By eliminating the obligation of manufacturers to submit these products for review by FDA, the provision would make it much harder for FDA to address concerns about the many kid-friendly flavored cigars that entered the market during this period," the groups wrote.

The organizations also noted that the House rider would also make it easier for manufacturers to introduce new tobacco products to market in the future.

"By changing which products can serve as 'predicate products,' it would enable more e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products to be eligible for a less rigorous 'substantial equivalence' review by FDA instead of a full review of these products' effect on public health.

"There are clear health risks if a tobacco product is not thoroughly reviewed and evaluated before being allowed on the market. E-cigarettes are the most popular tobacco product among youth, and FDA has not fully assessed their appeal to kids or impact on health. The House rider opens the door for the next generation of these products to escape a complete and thorough review by FDA," the organizations concluded.

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