This year our participants have far exceeded our expectations in creativity for assignments in the Florida Tobacco Prevention on-line course. They have taken the topics given to them and truly made them their own. The participants have also been willing to have their work shared with others. The following essay was for the chemical assignment. The criteria chosen by this participant was for them to share their perspective on why tobacco has been exempt from displaying ingredients while other items that are for human consumption must show details of what goes into their products. We also asked what changes should be made and do they see them happing in the near future. Thank you Tim Bove from St. Lucie School District for your essay.
The question remains as to why tobacco products are not required – in the interest of full disclosure – to reveal their entire ingredient list, as are other products monitored and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There seem to be two components to this answer, neither of which is sufficient in its own right, but, when combined together, provide a compelling explanation for this phenomenon.
First and foremost is the very nature of tobacco products themselves. As it is summarized by one source, this agency “is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over the-counter pharmaceutical drugs (medications), vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices (ERED), cosmetics, animal foods & feed and veterinary products” (Wikipedia, n/d, “Food”). While the agency was originally intended to monitor and provide product control for foodstuffs, drugs, and medical devices and equipment, it has only recently seen fit to expand its purview to other substances, technologies, and procedures that affect health, either directly or indirectly. Its regulation over tobacco products, for example, only dates back to 2009, with the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Wikipedia, n/d, “Food”). As yet, the agency appears unsure as to how to go about regulating these particular products, which are not technically food, drugs, or medical substances. It appears that the FDA has two choices: It can continue its current campaign to regulate factors surrounding smoking, like advertising, accessibility to minors, and warning labels on packaging; or it can treat tobacco products as inherently dangerous recreational products that are purposely designed to kill their targets, even when used as intended. The first is a more cost-effective and legally-justifiable approach, and it appears that this will be the one taken in the foreseeable future.
The second issue in tobacco labeling is the list of ingredients itself. There is no issue regarding the additives to cigarettes and other tobacco products; a comprehensive list of about 600 ingredients has been submitted to the United States Department of Health and Human Services as early as 1994 (Wikipedia, n/d, “List”). While these ingredients could be displayed on every package of tobacco product sold, the rationale for doing so is unclear. How would this list benefit the average consumer, who would still remain woefully unaware of the health consequences of even the most dangerous chemicals on the list? After all, this list of ingredients is already available to the public, but it goes largely unused and, when used, is not very well understood. How are tobacco products different than other readily available consumables? It is rare to find warning labels on apples or blueberries, for instance, which regularly make the list of fruits containing the most pesticide residue at point of sale (blueberries, for example, exhibiting at times more than fifty dangerous pesticides when sold to the public) (Good Housekeeping, n/d). While it is reasonable to hold tobacco products to the same standards as other consumables, it would be questionable to hold them to a higher standard simply due to their unpopularity among certain activist groups. Finally, the list of ingredients that go into cigarettes is simply unhelpful due to the dissimilarity between this list and the list of substances that come out of tobacco products when they are used: “When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous” (American Lung Association, n/d). It is this list that has the potential to help consumers, but is, once again, both overwhelmingly long and difficult to comprehend.
The simplest way to remedy this situation is two-fold. First, disclosure should be based on what is reasonably expected to happen when the product is used as intended. After all, the warnings on heat producing appliances, for example, are based not on what goes in but on what comes out. Ingredients should be listed, not in the order of quantity (as is commonly done with foodstuffs), but in the order of quality (with the most toxic elements noted upfront). Second, however, is the more obvious solution: Tobacco products should be regulated for what they are, which is a delivery system for dangerous chemicals that endangers the user and those around him or her as well. Quite simply, if we discovered that a manufacturer was producing and selling products containing dangerous chemicals, we would normally fine the manufacturer and immediately recall the products (see, e.g., the recall of Chinese products ranging from toothpaste and pet food to children’s toys and lipstick, all containing lead (Wikipedia, n/d, “2007”)). The only reason that tobacco products are not regulated the same as other dangerous and toxic chemical delivery systems is that they have a much better legal defense team.
– American Lung Association. (n/d). What’s in a cigarette? Retrieved from http://www.lung.org/stopsmoking/about-smoking/facts-figures/whats-in-a-cigarette.html
– Good Housekeeping. (n/d). The new dirty dozen: 22 foods to eat organic. Retrieved from
– Wikipedia. (n/d). 2007 Chinese export recalls. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_export_recalls
– Wikipedia. (n/d). Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_and_Drug_Administration
– Wikipedia. (n.d). List of additives in cigarettes. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_additives_in_cigarettes