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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

They were standard enticements on cigarette packs, but not anymore. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – exercising new clout over advertising and marketing of tobacco products has banished light, mild and low tar.

The absence of cigarette advertising at sporting and cultural events is even more proof of the FDA’s expanded powers. Tobacco company sponsorship of these activities is a thing of the past.

And, unless located in adults-only businesses, vending machine sales of cigarettes are prohibited.

“Congress extended FDA oversight to the tobacco industry in the hope of discouraging smoking, particularly among children and teens,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “The battle, however, is not over.”

In 2008, more than one out of four young people age 12 or older, amounting to 71 million teens, were tobacco users. Every day, nearly 4,000 young people try their first cigarette.

Already, tobacco companies are finding ways to circumvent some of the FDA measures. Marlboro Lights are now offered as Marlboro Gold while Marlboro Menthol Milds are available as Marlboro Menthol Blues. By asking for specific colors, smokers can still purchase their brand and taste of choice and get its perceived “health benefits.”  Any cigarette use can contribute to lifelong health problems, but studies show that 90 percent of smokers and nonsmokers are of the opinion that those advertised as light or marketed under certain colors are less harmful. In Australia, at least, this method of undermining will not be an option for long. Effective July 2012, cigarettes in that country will be sold in plain packs without identifying names, logos or colors.

So far, the FDA is staying out of the debate over nicotine content even though the tobacco industry has steadily increased the quantity of this addictive ingredient in cigarettes. Nicotine dependence is the most common form of chemical addiction in the United States. The FDA does not have authority to ban nicotine altogether but could require that levels in tobacco products be reduced. However, concerns have been raised that doing so could create a black market for full-strength cigarettes and also lead smokers to increase daily cigarette use in order to satisfy nicotine cravings.

Still, reducing nicotine in cigarettes would mean less people developing smoking habits in the first place, and medications are available to help those with nicotine addictions cope with withdrawal. Smoking is the top cause of preventable death in the U.S. Nearly one in every five deaths is caused by tobacco use. Every year, more than 443,000 people die due to smoking and other tobacco-related habits.

And, as O’Sullivan points out, “Laborers are heavy smokers. Four out of every ten use tobacco, and two-thirds of them have a pack-a-day-plus habit.”

The LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division offers smoking cessation and tobacco awareness programs that assist Laborers with quitting and also educate about smoking-related health issues for smokers and non-smokers. These programs and related brochures can be ordered through the LHSFNA’s Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]