Administration takes $53M step toward new tobacco regulations

The Obama administration said Thursday it would spend $53 million on a national research program to be the foundation for the regulation of cigarettes and other tobacco products. 

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the funds would support the creation of 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS). Based mostly at universities around the country, the centers are tasked with generating research that could be used to inform future regulations meant to protect public health.

Congress granted the FDA power to regulate tobacco products in 2009, but the agency has rarely used the authority. Roughly one in five U.S. deaths is linked to smoking, existing federal research shows. 

“The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the complex public health issues raised by tobacco product regulation,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. “The agency is establishing science and research programs designed to increase understanding of the risks associated with tobacco use.”

The program will be funded by the FDA and coordinated by the National Institutes of Health.

Recipients of the awards include scientists and Ph.D.s with expertise ranging from biology and behavior to marketing and economics.

The $53 million awarded for the initiative’s first year could be just the first installment of more than $273 million in potential funding over five years, under the terms of the program, according to the FDA.

The action comes as 16 public health and medical groups called upon the administration to assert its regulatory jurisdiction to all tobacco products.

The 2009 Tobacco Control Act expressly gave the FDA authority over cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco, but contained language allowing the agency to expand its oversight to additional products, the groups contend.

That could include the booming electronic cigarette industry.

“The e-cigarette industry is using a number of marketing techniques originally employed by the cigarette companies to addict youth, including the use of candy- and fruit-flavors,” the groups wrote in a letter to President Obama.