Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights U.S. progress on addressing the disease and death caused by tobacco products, but notes that significant unfinished business remains. The article underscores the critical and unmet need for greater availability of cessation treatments, higher cigarette taxes and expanded smoke-free policies.

While we can feel good about the decline in the prevalence of smoking and the recent congressional action to give the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products (finally), complacence has no place in the tobacco control world.

As the article states, “[s]moking cessation is critical for reducing the tragic and predicable burden of disease caused by smoking.” Tragically, although cessation is a medical treatment with proven efficacy, it remains woefully underfunded and underutilized. The major problem is lack of coverage in private insurance plans and employer-provided health benefits. Barriers, like co-pays and arbitrary limits on cessation treatments, further restrict access and affect quitting success. To address these obstacles, Partnership for Prevention convened the National Working Group for ACTTION (Access to Cessation Treatment of Tobacco in Our Nation), which seeks to change this dynamic by promoting collaboration among health providers, business, insurers and the tobacco control community to implement strategies to increase access and utilization of tobacco cessation treatments.

The JAMA Commentary states the obvious…the recently-enacted law giving FDA authority over tobacco products “represents a critical step in tobacco control.” While the FDA law won’t solve all tobacco control issues, it provides a tremendous opportunity to rein in a rogue industry and to communicate more truthful information to the public about tobacco products. But FDA is not authorized to mandate an expansion in insurance coverage, develop new therapies to help youth seeking to quit or provide workplace incentives that encourage cessation. That important work requires our continue vigilance and advocacy…especially with Congress as they debate health reform.

Be warned. We advocates of tobacco control must stay on high alert for actions that would undermine current tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. There will continue to be a need to demand attention and sufficient resources from government (state and federal) to reduce further tobacco product consumption and to provide those who want to quit with real, comprehensive support and effective treatments to do so.

Diane Canova
Managing Senior Fellow


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