FDA Commissioner – Dr. David Kessler: Smoke Screening
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
KWAME HOLMAN: Agreeing with the Food & Drug Administration that nicotine is an addictive drug, President Clinton said today the FDA will within a year begin regulating cigarette and smokeless tobacco advertising and sales. Under the new regulations, young tobacco purchasers will have to prove they are at least 18 years of age. Cigarette vending machines will be banned from locations frequented by children such as supermarkets.
Tobacco advertising on billboards will be forbidden near schools and playgrounds. And all billboards that advertise cigarettes and smokeless tobacco will be printed in black and white and contain no pictures. Tobacco companies no longer will be allowed to aim their marketing campaigns at young people and within two years will be banned from sponsoring sporting events. Finally, cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies whose brands are most used by teenagers will be required to educate children on the dangers of smoking and chewing.
The steps announced today closely resemble those President Clinton urged the FDA to adopt last summer. He said that teen smoking was a major public health hazard. Teen smoking is at a 16-year high. Smoking among young people in grades nine through twelve increased from about 27 percent in 1991 to almost 35 percent last year. On average, 3,000 children start smoking cigarettes every day. In a recent study, the Centers For Disease Control concluded that 600,000 teenagers started smoking during a period when tobacco companies quadrupled their spending on cigarette advertising.
Two tobacco giants, Philip Morris and the United States Tobacco Company, reacted to the President’s remarks last summer by proposing their own curb on advertising that would avoid FDA regulation. But in May, the White House said the proposal didn’t go far enough. Today, President Clinton added to the pressure on the industry.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Today we are taking direct action to protect our children from tobacco, and especially the advertising that hooks children on a product. I hear from time to time politicians say that they don’t really think advertising has much to do with it, and whenever I hear one say that, I say, well, how come we’re all spending so much money advertising when we run for office then? If it’s immaterial, let’s just pull it all off and see what happens to us. Cigarette smoking is the most significant public health problem facing our people. More Americans die every year from smoking-related diseases than from AIDS, car accidents, murders, suicides, and fires combined. The human cost doesn’t begin to calculate the economic cost. The thing that galvanized the legal claims of the attorney general, the absolutely staggering burdens on the American health care system and on our economy in general. But, make no mistake about it, the human cost is by far the most important issue. We have carefully considered the evidence. It is clear that the action being taken today is the right thing to do, scientifically, legally, and morally.
KWAME HOLMAN: In a video news release made available this afternoon, an official from industry leader Philip Morris criticized the President’s approach.
OFFICIAL: Philip Morris strongly believes that kids should not smoke, and they should not have access to cigarettes. That’s something we all agree on. President Clinton has said he would prefer a legislative solution to deal with the under-age tobacco issue, and we agree with that too. There’s too much common ground on this issue to allow the FDA to illegally seize regulatory authority from Congress and threaten to trample on the rights of the 45 million American adults who choose to smoke.
JIM LEHRER: Now to a further explanation of the new regulations and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Joining us is the man who devised the new regulations, the commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration, Dr. David Kessler. Welcome, Dr. Kessler.
DR. DAVID KESSLER, FDA Commissioner: A pleasure to be here.
MARGARET WARNER: What is you’re trying to achieve with these new rules?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: To deal with the problem, what we need to do is to prevent kids from ever becoming addicted to nicotine.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you have a goal? I mean, how will you know if you’re successful?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: The President set a goal in seven years of 50 percent reduction, very simple.
MARGARET WARNER: Now you heard the Philip Morris video just there and that spokesman was repeating what many critics in the industry say, namely that you have just no jurisdiction to do this. They say we’re not a food, we’re not a drug. The FDA has no authority over us.
DR. DAVID KESSLER: Nicotine is an addictive drug. That’s why people smoke. And the industry has known that. They’ve known that longer than scientists in the public sector has. When you read some of the industry documents that have come out over the last year, when you read that a general counsel of a major American tobacco company wrote “We are then in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug.” When you read that, you realize the key industry officials knew it, knew it was a drug, and said it long before the FDA did.
MARGARET WARNER: And so why has the FDA been able to make this declaration now and say not two years ago or five years ago?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: What we said several years ago was that we would begin an inquiry. Let me give you the definition of a drug under the law. It’s an article, except for food, intended to affect structure and function of the body. Does nicotine affect the structure and function of the body? Of course. Go to any medical library. The question was intent. And that’s why those documents and the results of that inquiry, it’s now made public–thousands of pages–that was very important in shaping the agency’s ruling.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, and are there–of course, this is going to be challenged in court–I’m sure you expect that.
DR. DAVID KESSLER: We are already in courts. The tobacco companies have filed suit in district court in North Carolina.
MARGARET WARNER: And are there any court decisions so far that buttress your assertion that this is an addictive drug?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: That specific issue has not been in court, but look at the industry’s own words. Look at the medical literature. Nicotine is an addictive drug. That’s why people smoke.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, let’s turn to the question of marketing to children, and we just heard what the President said, hey, you know, if advertising doesn’t work, why are advertising? And surely there’s something to that, but how much of the appeal of cigarettes to children do you think is marketing versus say their peers, or what they see in the entertainment industry?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: No one likes to say that advertising affects them. No one believes it has any effect. What’s the three most heavily advertised brands? Marlboro, Camel, and Newport–what’s the three brands that are used most by kids, Marlboro and Newport and Camel. It has an important influence. We send very mixed messages, I as a parent, I as a pediatrician. I tell my kids not to smoke, but you go outside and you see billboards, and you see these images, these images that build on themes of fun, glamour, independence. We need to reduce those mixed messages, and that’s what the President did and the FDA did today in a rather historic event.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, again, as you know, the tobacco companies say they’re not specifically targeting young people with these advertising campaigns.
DR. DAVID KESSLER: But the consequences of their actions, in fact, do target young people. If you look at the industry documents, it is chillingly effective at how they have been. If you don’t start smoking by the age of nineteen or twenty, you’re never going to start. The key are kids and children and adolescents. And we need to be able to focus our efforts on people before they become addicted. And it’s kids who start at eleven, twelve, and thirteen who become addicted at sixteen or seventeen.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Do you think these new rules can pass muster on free speech grounds? Because, as you know, the Supreme Court just a couple of months ago struck down some anti-liquor advertising laws in say Rhode Island, I think it was.
DR. DAVID KESSLER: The Department of Justice has reviewed the regulations and do believe that they pass First Amendment muster. The government can protect children. You cannot advertise or promote illegal behavior, the sale of cigarettes, I mean, to children and adolescents. That kind of speech is not protected. And this is not a ban on information. Even the billboards allow information; they allow black and white text. It’s–we’re trying to do–what we’re trying to do is reduce the appeal, the imagery, the fun, the glamour, the positive images that for too long have sent contradictory messages to our kids and adolescents.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you to explain a couple of the regulations because I think some are pretty clear, such as you have to have an ID to buy cigarettes, show you’re 18. But how about this, the magazine advertising, for instance? Now it can’t be in magazines that young people read, I assume “Rolling Stone.”
DR. DAVID KESSLER: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What about “Sports Illustrated?”
DR. DAVID KESSLER: It just depends–what can’t be in?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, can there be any–you tell me.
DR. DAVID KESSLER: In magazines that have significant youth readership, more than 2 million kids and more than 15 percent, the ads can’t have the attractive imagery. They can have black and white. They can have information; they just can’t have that kind of appeal. In other magazines, “Fortune” and like, adult-only magazines, uh, that are read, any images, any words, this is not a ban on information.
MARGARET WARNER: Now I’m sure the cigarette companies are going to say that some of these rules where you tried to draw this line between adults, marketing to adults and children, cross the line, for instance, that cigarette companies can no longer sponsor say sporting events of any kind, is that right?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: Look at the industry’s own code on advertising. They strongly encourage companies not to deal and not to have the sports hero image, and yet, that’s, in fact, what the sponsorship is doing.
MARGARET WARNER: And also the regulation that they can’t have any T-shirts, logos, anything like that, logos on T-shirts, sportswear, again, you think that strictly applies to children?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: One third of kids who smoke and had these kind of hats and T-shirts–we turn our kids into walking billboards. They think it’s just another commodity; they don’t realize that we’re dealing with an addictive drug. You wouldn’t have a hat or a T-shirt on a kid for Prozac or Valium, would you?
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, let me ask you about the long range implications of declaring nicotine an addictive drug. What are the long range implications? I mean, they are broader than just marketing to children, aren’t they?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: It’s an historic step. It is a very important step. It’s calling the way it is. It’s calling it the way the scientific evidence is. We’re dealing with an addictive drug. But the regulations, they’re one page, they’re eminently reasonable. They’re about protecting our kids; they’re just compelling common sense.
MARGARET WARNER: But if nicotine is an addictive drug, then the door would be open, would it not, to have the FDA say regulate it as you would a drug, for instance, how much nicotine can be in a cigarette?
DR. DAVID KESSLER: When you read those regulations that were issued today, that one page doesn’t say anything about that. And we’ve gone through notice and comment rule-making. You could do anything, but that’s not what the agency has done today?
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Dr. Kessler, thanks for being with us.