Tobacco rules tightened

The FDA has finalized wide-ranging limits on where and how tobacco may be sold and advertised.

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It's going to be harder for kids to get and use tobacco, the government hopes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has put some teeth into its mission of restricting access to and curbing the appeal of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco.

Today the agency issued a final rule containing a broad set of federal requirements designed to protect kids. The ruling becomes effective June 22 and has the force of law. This updates the original rule crafted in the 1990s.

Among other things, the ruling prohibits the sale of cigarette packages with less than 20 cigarettes, prohibits distribution of free samples of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, and prohibits tobacco brand name sponsorship of any athletic, musical or other social or cultural events.

The FDA will work closely with states agencies to ensure retailers comply with the rule, starting before June 22 with an education campaign for business owners.

The heftier rule should be felt far, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department. "This will go a long way in helping parents stop children's use of tobacco."

The changes in the way tobacco companies can advertise is the primary tool to curb use, Crowder said. Audio ads, for example, must be words only, no music or sound effects. The new rule prohibits the sale or distribution of items, such as hats and T-shirts, with tobacco brands or logos. It also bans gifts or other items being exchanged for buying cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products.

"There is a strong incentive to back off from advertising," he added. As well, the new language stops the practice of selling cigarettes and smokeless tobacco in vending machines and self-service displays, except in very limited situations, such as bars or other places where minors are not admitted.

Daily, about 4,000 kids under 18 try their first cigarette and 1,000 kids under 18 become daily smokers, according to the FDA.

Enforcement of the new rule will begin once it becomes effective on June 22. Manufacturers and retailers who do not comply with the rule may be subject to enforcement action.

The entire rule can be found at www.fda.gov/protectingkidsfromtobacco.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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