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New Poll: Americans Strongly Back FDA Authority over Tobacco, Want FDA to Regulate Cigars, E-Cigarettes, Reject Efforts in Congress to Exempt Cigars from Regulation

June 27, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – Four years after passage of a landmark law giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to regulate tobacco products, American voters strongly support the law and want the FDA to extend its authority to all tobacco products, including cigars and electronic cigarettes, according to an online poll conducted by the Mellman Group for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. They strongly oppose efforts in Congress to prevent FDA from regulating cigars.

Key findings of the poll include:

  • By a 76 to 14 percent margin, voters back the 2009 law giving the FDA authority over tobacco products, which included restrictions on sales and marketing to children.
  • By a twenty percentage point margin (54-34) voters think the FDA should extend its authority to regulate all tobacco products, including cigars, pipe tobacco, and electronic cigarettes. After being shown pictures of a number of tobacco products that are currently not subject to FDA regulation, support for regulation of all tobacco products increased to 61 percent, with just 31 percent opposed.
  • Voters overwhelming oppose (66 percent to 23 percent) legislation before Congress that would prevent the FDA from regulating large premium cigars.

The Mellman Group conducted the nationally representative online survey of 1,002 registered likely voters designed to simulate the likely November 2014 general electorate. Interviews were conducted June 14-18, 2013.

The 2009 law directed the FDA to immediately regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. It authorized the FDA to extend its authority to all other tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes. The FDA stated its intention to do so in December 2010, but has yet to act. In recent years, tobacco companies have introduced a variety of cheap flavored cigars and other novel tobacco products that remain unregulated and clearly appeal to children.

In the meantime, some members of Congress have introduced legislation to exempt certain cigars from FDA regulation. Public health advocates have opposed the legislation, arguing that all tobacco products are harmful and should be subject to science-based regulation to protect public health.

Health advocates have also expressed concerns that some smaller, cheaper, sweet-flavored cigars that appeal to kids could also escape regulation under the legislation, and that any cigar exemption would invite tobacco companies to modify their products to avoid regulation. Tobacco companies have engaged in such manipulation before, for example introducing candy and fruit-flavored cigars to evade a ban on similarly-flavored cigarettes and increasing the weight of cigars to evade higher taxes on smaller cigars. (According to one recent report, by Bloomberg News, one tobacco company increased the weight of its cigars by adding a clay material used in kitty litter.

“These poll results show that voters understand all tobacco products, including cigars, are harmful and should be regulated by the FDA to protect our children and the nation’s health,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “The public wants the scientists at the FDA – not Congress, and certainly not the tobacco companies – to determine how best to regulate tobacco products to reduce the death and disease they cause. It is critical that FDA act quickly to regulate all tobacco products and that Congress not diminish the agency’s authority.”

The poll also found that voters strongly support specific provisions of the 2009 law, as well as potential actions the FDA might take to reduce tobacco use:

  • 86 percent support requiring tobacco companies to disclose the ingredients in tobacco products;
  • 72 percent support requiring manufacturers to reduce the amount of nicotine and other substances to make tobacco products less addictive;
  • 79 percent support preventing tobacco companies from making claims that some products are less harmful than others, unless the FDA determines those claims are true and will not cause more people to smoke;
  • 80 percent support requiring tobacco companies to take measures, when scientifically possible, to make tobacco products less harmful;
  • 81 percent support requiring tobacco companies to inform the FDA any time they make changes to cigarettes and other tobacco products, including increasing the amount of nicotine;
  • 69 percent support requiring large, graphic warning labels on cigarettes to better convey the health risks of smoking (the FDA is developing new such warnings after the courts blocked initial graphic warnings issued by the agency);
  • 77 percent support requiring the removal of additives or ingredients that make tobacco products more appealing to kids.

Full results of the poll, including a summary from the pollster and an annotated questionnaire, can be found in the sidebar on the right. The margin of error for the full survey is +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The margin of error is larger for subgroups. The poll was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.