The U.S. Food and Drug Administration took its first regulatory action against a tobacco product on Friday, ordering a company to stop selling cigarette-like products called bidis.
It’s the first time the FDA has used power that Congress granted it in 2009 to stop a company from selling tobacco products already on the market and it chose a small target — an Illinois distributor of the bidis, which are popular in India and other South Asian countries.
“You don’t take on Marlboro in your first sword fight,” said one anti-tobacco advocate, who asked not to be named.
“Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone Bidis are thin, hand-rolled cigarettes filled with tobacco and wrapped in leaves from a tendu tree that are tied with string. The manufacturer, Jash International, did not meet the requirements of the Tobacco Control Act to be able to continue selling these products,” FDA says in its announcement.
The company was supposed to show the bidis were equivalent to something already on the market. Jash International says it isn't selling the bidis any more, anwyay.
Advocates consider bidis an important, if small, target because they are cheap, usually flavored and appeal to teens.
The FDA has struggled to take on big tobacco companies, which have battled for decades against the U.S. Department of Justice, the Surgeon-General and attorneys-general in the states.The 2009 legislation does not give the agency the authority to ban tobacco products but it can require them to list ingredients and regulate warning notices on the packets.
But with the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon-General’s warning against smoking, the Obama administration has stepped up its rhetoric a bit. FDA launched its first anti-smoking campaign earlier this year, with graphic images targeting teens. Last month, the Surgeon-General’s office released an even longer list of diseases caused by smoking and blaming tobacco for killing 20 million people.
The drugstore chain CVS said it would stop selling tobacco products, as well.
“What’s important about today’s action is not any specific product in question, but the precedent the FDA has set for taking tobacco products off the market when they don’t comply with the law. This is a shot across the bow of every tobacco company,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
FDA has also proposed regulating electronic cigarettes and cigars, restricting their online sales and marketing to children. The White House's Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the regulations.