President Obama signed into law Monday legislation that gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unprecedented power to help reduce the appeal of tobacco products to children and first-time smokers. During the signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Obama noted that a fifth of children begin smoking by the time they graduate.
"I know – I was one of these teenagers," said Obama, who has frequently talked publicly about his battle. "And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time."
The new law also gives the federal government sweeping new authority to control the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The agency can ban candy-flavored and fruit-flavored cigarettes, which are blamed for reeling in unwary young and first-time smokers. Under provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, tobacco companies are prohibited from using terms such as "low tar," "light" or "mild," and they are required to use larger warning labels on packages; they are also restricted in their advertising of tobacco products and to reduce levels of nicotine in cigarettes.
"The decades-long effort to protect our children [has] emerged victorious. ... Today, change has come."
Tobacco is blamed for more than 400,000 Americans deaths every year, the president noted. Moreover, tobacco-related health care costs exceed $100 billion annually.
Altria Group, which owns Philip Morris USA, the nation's biggest cigarette company, previously called congressional passage of the law "an important step forward." At the same time, however, it also expressed "First Amendment reservations about certain provisions, including those that could restrict a manufacturer's ability to communicate truthful information to adult consumers about tobacco products."