Reexamining the Pathways to Reduction in Tobacco-Related Disease

Robert L. Rabin


Six years ago, when I last wrote on tobacco policy, my perspective was to offer an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a half-century of tobacco control strategies aimed at reducing the health risks associated with cigarette smoking. I began with a discussion of informational strategies; then turned to public place restrictions; and followed with a treatment of excise tax initiatives. In my view, restrictions on advertising and promotion and resort to tort litigation had been less effective as control efforts, but nonetheless also warranted consideration. In the ensuing years, there have been a number of significant developments that have altered the course of tobacco control policy. Prominent among these developments has been the authority granted to the Food and Drug Administration in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009; the resort by the industry to litigation in a new guise — particularly reliant on the First Amendment — as an offensive weapon targeting regulatory controls; and the publication of the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report on youth smoking, which makes the case for top-priority attention to underage smoking behavior. These and related measures point to new pathways for breaking through a perceived recent loss of momentum in achieving further reductions in tobacco-related disease, without abandoning what has worked in the recent past. I attempt to pull together these multiple fronts in a Section focused primarily on youth smoking, assessing the promise of present efforts to reduce the harms associated with tobacco. Finally, I offer some brief thoughts from a broader public-health perspective, discussing the framework of tobacco control initiatives from the vantage point of the obesity problem.

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