Legislation addresses tobacco crisis


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) led Senate democrats in introducing the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020, comprehensive legislation to stop tobacco companies from targeting youth with marketing schemes, and to curb the rise in the use of tobacco and e-cigarette products among youth.

Brown is leading the legislation, and the legislation is sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) introduced the House version of the bill, which was marked up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee in November 2019.

According to a report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a 78 percent increase in current e-cigarette use by high school students and 48 percent increase among middle school students from 2017 to 2018.

The introduction of the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020 follows Congressional action to increase the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years of age, which passed into law at the end of 2019. While increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products – including e-cigarettes – is a positive step forward, increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 is not sufficient to curb the youth smoking epidemic. The Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020 recognizes that much more must be done in order to turn the tide in this public health crisis and reduce youth use of tobacco and other nicotine-containing products, including a prohibition on any flavored tobacco product that has not been approved by the FDA.

Specifically, the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020 would address the increase in youth tobacco use by:

* Requiring the FDA to finalize a rule requiring graphic health warnings for cigarette packages by March 2020, consistent with a federal court order;

* Extending FDA regulations on the sale, distribution, and use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to all deemed tobacco products, including e-cigarettes;

* Directing the FDA to prohibit non-face-to-face sales of all tobacco products including e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories;

* Prohibiting all characterizing flavors of tobacco products, including menthol;

* Providing the FDA with the authority to collect user fees from all classes of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes;

* Instructing the FDA to issue a final rule on the regulation of products containing synthetic nicotine or nicotine that is not made or derived from tobacco;

* Clarifying the penalties for non-enforcement of the newly passed tobacco 21 law, and differentiating between retailers that offer an approved training program for employees related to the restrictions on sale and distribution of tobacco products to minors;

* Providing the CDC with the authority to do outreach to medically underserved communities on ways to educate and provide guidance on nicotine addiction prevention and smoking cessation, and requiring the CDC to establish a grant program to develop strategies for smoking cessation in medically underserved communities;

* Making it unlawful to market, advertise, or promote any e-cigarette products to individuals under the age of 21, consistent with the recently passed federal tobacco 21 law; and,

* Requiring the FTC to issue an annual report to Congress on the domestic sales, advertising, and promotional activity of cigarette, cigar, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarette manufacturers.

“Tobacco companies have preyed on youth for years, irresponsibly advertising and marketing their harmful products to teens,” said Senator Brown. “It’s time to put a stop to these marketing schemes, hold these companies accountable, and prevent highly addictive tobacco and e-cigarette products from getting into the wrong hands.”