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Kids, not adults, the focus for cutting tobacco use


August 22, 1996
Web posted at: 11:55 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Jeff Levine

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- New tobacco regulations the White House plans to unveil Friday likely will be aimed at youngsters.

The strategy behind the proposed federal regulations is to stop young people before they get hooked. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the average teen smoker picks up the habit at about age 14.

But what about the almost 50 million adults who smoke? Public health officials believe the habit causes more than 400,000 deaths in the United States alone every year. Shouldn't regulations be aimed at keeping them away from cigarettes?

"If we can prevent children from smoking at least until the age of 19, 90 percent of them will never smoke."

-- Dr. Lonnie Bristow, president
American Medical Association

"People do have the right to make those choices, legally, and what we will do is be supportive of them in a compassionate fashion, trying to help encourage them to stop smoking," said

When considering how to approach tobacco regulation, officials at the FDA rejected a total ban on tobacco as unworkable. Many doctors treating patients hooked on cigarettes agree.

"We know that through the Prohibition, for example, when you ban any product like alcohol, that people tend to be more interested in the product," said Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi of George Washington University Medical Center.


However, conservative critics suggest the Clinton Administration's approach may put tobacco on the slipper slope towards a new Prohibition.

"The FDA might not decide to absolutely prohibit cigarette manufacture and sales under that rule, but lawsuits might force them to do so. After all, how can you prove that cigarettes are safe and effective? You simply can't," said Jerry Taylor of the CATO Institute.

Some scientists have suggested that it's possible to make a safer cigarette, or that nicotine levels could be reduced over a period of time, making tobacco less addictive.

Instead, the FDA has chosen what amounts to a preventive strategy. According to Bristow, "If we can prevent children from smoking at least until the age of 19, 90 percent of them will never smoke."

The FDA hopes to reduce the number of young smokers by half in seven years. In time, the goal is to eliminate smoking altogether as a public health problem.

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