Secretary, Federal Trade Commission
Re: 16 CFR Part 307
This letter is in response to your Request for Comments Concerning Regulations Implementing the Comprehensive Smokeless Tobacco Health Education Act of 1986.
Smokeless tobacco is a serious public health problem in Oklahoma. 6.1% of Middle School students and 6.9% of High School students currently use smokeless tobacco as reflected in the 1999 Comanche county Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Office of Tobacco Use Prevention.
As an educator in the national TAR WARS program, the American Lung Associations High School Heroes, the American Cancer Societys TATU (Teens Against Tobacco Use) program, and the Comanche County Tobacco Use Prevention and Reduction program including SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco), I have traveled over nine counties, (Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Grady, Harmon, Jackson, Jefferson, Stephens, and Tillman), in southwest Oklahoma over the past 5 years presenting interactive tobacco prevention programs to children as youth and children from 7 years old to college students.
I can attest that the social norm for high school males in the rural farming communities is a can of chewing tobacco in the back pocket of their blue jeans. Those percentages would certainly range in the 45-75 percentile.
When a third grade child suddenly becomes pale and asks, "Chewing tobacco can give you mouth cancer and make your teeth rot? I chew all the time. My grandfather always gives me some," we, as a nation have an important responsibility to provide proper and unmistakably visually graphic warning labels for these products.
When over 75% of rural elementary school students raise their hands in response to the question, "Do you know anyone whose mouth looks like this?" while viewing Mr Gross Mouth, a model dipicting mouth cancers and diseases caused by chew tobacco use, consumers are not receiving sufficient warning s about the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco use.
At the very least, the warning labels on smokeless tobacco products should be made much more prominent. Labels should cover at least 50% of the package's main and side panels and be required as a package insert as well. Photos of mouth cancers, tooth decay and other diseases should be printed on the package insert.
Additionally warnings should be printed in a larger type than presently is deemed acceptable and the precise requirements should be specified by the FTC; FTC should specify in regulations the format and colors of the warning to ensure appropriate contrast with the rest of the product package. Research and evidence from other countries suggest that black type on a white background is most effective.
It is crucial that the present safe harbor approach to compliance be abandoned and that details of the warning labels-such as type size, color, and placement-be mandated by regulation and not left to the manufacturers of this product. Citizens of this country deserve at least as much protection as is mandated by law and regulation in Canada and Australia. The warnings should be rotated often to maintain their effectiveness, and, although we are aware that new Congressional authority would be required for this, health messages should give the consumer important and graphic information about the addictive properties of smokeless tobacco, the immediate and long-term, disease specific health effects of smokeless tobacco use.
The FTC has long advocated stronger labeling than is currently required by law. The Commission should be allowed to pursue these stronger labeling requirements to adequately protect the current users of smokeless tobacco and the potential users of the product, who are mostly minors. It is important that this product be labeled with warnings that are more likely to be seen, understood, and incorporated into decisions by consumers about whether or not to use it. Ideally, these more adequate health messages would be developed the same way that advertisements are-based on information gleaned through research and testing involving users and potential users. Thank you for considering these comments. I look forward to seeing the FTC take action on this important health issue.
Debra L. Shandy, CPIII