Smoking Gun

Joyce Wu


March 1, 2011


Time and time again we hear how life-threatening the effects of cigarettes and tobacco are. Studies reinforcing this fact have repeatedly shown that employees who smoke are prone to decreased productivity as it increases absenteeism and health costs. But the implementation of smoking bans in the workplace remains as elusive as ever, even with tobacco still atop the list of preventable killers. The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that by 2020, it hopes to enact smoking prohibitions in all workplaces, but history has shown that the battle against the cigarette and tobacco industry is not so easily won.

Federal Excise Tax on Tobacco
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was the first to propose an excise tax on the sale of tobacco products to raise federal revenue. Although the tax was originally met with public resistance, it turned out to be profitable for the young nation, accounting for more than 30% of tax dollars by the end of the 19th century. Cigarettes were subsequently singled out for tax increases throughout the Civil War.

Surgeon General Report
Growing concerns about the link between smoking and lung cancer prompted U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry to release an advisory committee report in 1964. Drawing on thousands of medical studies, the report confirmed suspicions that cigarette smoking was indeed hazardous. As a result, cigarette packages were fitted with warning labels and advertising became restricted. Unfortunately, tobacco companies found ways to circumvent the new policies, using clever methods to market to America’s youth.

Public Smoking Bans
Minnesota became the first state to ban smoking in public places with the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act of 1975. Many states followed suit, including California, which enacted a controversial ban of smoking in bars, and New York, which extended anti-smoking regulations to include restaurants and clubs. (In 2011 New York City’s ban reached public parks and beaches). By 2009, 37 states were practicing some form of smoking prohibition.

Tobacco Master Settlement
The nation’s top tobacco companies were sued after they swore to Congress in 1994 that nicotine is not addictive, resulting in a $246 billion settlement. The agreement banned many of the industry’s marketing practices, particularly those that targeted minors. In addition, Big Tobacco was required to make yearly payments to compensate individuals for the medical costs of their smoking-related illnesses.

FDA Tobacco Regulation Bill
The FDA greatly increased its regulatory authority over the tobacco industry after both Congress and President Barack Obama passed the Tobacco Regulation Bill in 2009. Not only does the FDA now have the power to request the removal of harmful ingredients from cigarettes, but advertising has been further restricted and warning labels must now take up half of the front and back packaging.

Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act
June 2010
President Obama signed the PACT Act into law last summer with the intention of keeping a closer eye on tobacco products sold over the internet and via mail orders. The act tightened the requirements for businesses selling cigarettes and tobacco online, preventing them from selling to minors and ensuring that they pay all necessary taxes. Internet businesses must now comply with the same laws as brick and mortar distributors and are subject to steeper punishments for sidestepping the rules.

New FDA Cigarette Labels
November 2010
The FDA unveiled 36 new cigarette labels, six of which will be selected by June of this year as mandatory packaging. The labels use chilling, sometimes graphic images, including a body lying in a coffin, to remind consumers of smoking’s deadly consequences. While public health officials support the FDA’s move, cigarette companies are fighting the labels as a violation of free speech. By October 2012, all cigarette packages will bear the new labels.