By: Mitch Zeller, J.D.
One of my goals as the director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) is to get feedback from everyone interested in our groundbreaking work of regulating tobacco products. We’ve heard that some people outside the Beltway – meaning those beyond the nation’s capital – would appreciate the chance to interact with us. When we can, we make those opportunities happen. We especially want to hear more comments from the public on the scientific issues associated with our regulatory process.
One of those opportunities occurred this week when about 10 FDA staff members and I participated in the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in San Diego. The meeting provides a unique opportunity for members of the worldwide cancer research community to learn about cutting-edge advances, obtain feedback on their own research, and make connections that will foster future collaborations.
CTP kicked off its participation with an educational session to introduce cancer researchers to what tobacco regulatory science is – and what it is not. Science grounds all of our efforts to reduce the disease and death toll of tobacco use. This includes both funding and conducting research that helps determine the regulatory steps we must take to protect public health.
Next, CTP hosted a listening session so that our senior scientific staff could hear presentations on topics relevant to science-based regulation of tobacco products. This public session was held in conjunction with the AACR meeting for the convenience of the many researchers who attend and for members of the public living on the West Coast, but participants did not have to be registered for the AACR meeting to attend or present. We were particularly interested in hearing from the public in connection with FDA’s goals for regulating tobacco:
- Prevent youth tobacco initiation.
- Encourage adults who use tobacco to quit.
- Reduce product harms and addictiveness.
- Develop a science base and continue meaningful product regulation to reduce the toll of tobacco-related disease, disability and death.
Finally, I participated in a symposium panel and press conference marking AACR’s release of a special commemorative publication of the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report: The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. As I said in an interview for the special issue, it is amazing that, with everything we’ve learned about the dangers of tobacco use, our progress has slowed in terms of reducing smoking rates nationally. Nearly one in five adults still smokes, and too many kids become regular smokers. At the press conference, our panel of leaders in the field of tobacco research took questions from cancer and research media about current tobacco control efforts. We discussed smoking patterns and the evolution of tobacco control over the last 50 years, as well as highlighted this newest data from the Surgeon General’s Report on tobacco’s negative health effects. I emphasized the critical role that the regulation of tobacco products can play in these efforts.
Tobacco-related cancer researchers are key partners of FDA as we work toward our goal of ending the epidemic of tobacco use. Hearing from this audience – as well as others – was incredibly valuable to us because we use these insights and feedback as part of the regulatory process. We welcome the opportunity to further engage with the research community as we work to reduce the destructive health consequences of tobacco use.
Mitchell Zeller, J.D., is the Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products
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