FDA Voice Interviews Lawrence R. Deyton, M.S.P.H., M.D.

FDA Voice: What is your current position at FDA and, briefly, what is the mission of the Center for Tobacco Products?

Dr. Deyton: I joined FDA in the fall of 2009 as Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. CTP has a clear-cut mission: to help make tobacco-related death and disease part of America’s past, not America’s future, and, by doing so, ensure a healthier life for every person and every family.  That means putting programs and regulations in place that will help people, especially children, to not start using tobacco products, help current users to quit, and educate Americans about the risks of tobacco use. 

Lawrence R. Deyton, M.S.P.H., M.D. FDA Voice: Can you tell us in basic terms about the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act?

Dr. Deyton: Sure. When the Tobacco Control Act was enacted in 2009, FDA was given a series of important new responsibilities and authorities to protect the public from the dangers of tobacco use. And we’re implementing and enforcing the law’s provisions as they take effect.

For example, we’re helping to reduce access and the attractiveness of tobacco to kids by restricting advertising, marketing and retail practices related to cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. We’ll be educating Americans about the contents of tobacco products and smoke and, as we do, we’ll be helping families understand the health effects of tobacco use.

The law is also requiring tobacco manufacturers to register with us and submit information about their products and product ingredients, including additives. As incredible as it sounds, consumers of cigarettes, a mass-consumed product, currently don’t know the chemicals they’re inhaling that cause or have the potential to cause harm to them.  And, FDA now has the authority to set standards that can make tobacco products less addictive and harmful.

I should add that FDA has clear authority to enforce all these provisions. Take the case of retailers. Most retailers are happy to take on their new responsibilities under the Tobacco Control Act to make sure kids don’t buy cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products. But some are not.  And FDA has not been shy about using our authority to enforce penalties against them.

FDA Voice: Can you tell us how CTP is unique and how it differs from other Centers at FDA?

At CTP we’re regulating a product which, if you look at what is available today, is fundamentally unsafe. So, we employ a different regulatory standard than other centers: a public health/population health standard that focuses on reducing the health threat tobacco use poses to all of us, not just the individual consumer. That’s a different strategy than other FDA Centers use, but CTP is regulating a very different product.

FDA Voice:  If you could tell the American public one thing that they might not know about what CTP does to directly benefit them, what would it be?

Dr. Deyton: I think Americans ought to know that, even though we’re a new part of FDA, CTP is really grounded in values that have guided FDA since its inception: the belief that government has a responsibility to take action when people’s lives are needlessly put in danger.

You know, I’ve yet to meet anyone anywhere in this country who wants kids to start to use tobacco. Current smokers tell us, “Help keep this stuff out of kids’ hands.” They want them to grow up healthy. And I should add that those smokers also tell us how badly they’d like to quit. That’s why this law doesn’t only help to prevent initiation; it also promotes cessation and includes provisions for reducing the addictiveness and toxicity of future tobacco products. If we achieve these goals, we will accomplish our mission of making the harm caused by tobacco use part of America’s past, not America’s future.

Lawrence R. Deyton, M.S.P.H., M.D., is the Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products

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