The Scope of Preemption under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act
71(2) Food and Drug Law Journal 300 (2016)
29 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2016
Date Written: September 3, 2016
The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act endeavored to alter the regulatory regime for tobacco products in the United States by allocating authority to regulate tobacco products to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the law aims at greater transparency in the constituent components of cigarettes and non-combustible tobacco products, it also includes a provision which will bring FDA’s consumer protection and tobacco control mandates into tension: Section 911’s process for the approval of modified risk tobacco products. That provision allows tobacco manufacturers to submit applications to label products as “reduc[ing] the harm or the risk of tobacco-related disease associated with commercially marketed tobacco products.” As public health researchers have noted, Section 911 threatens to codify and authorize long-standing industry practices of asserting or implying health-promotion or harm-limiting claims that are in fact intended and shown to have precisely the opposite outcome including most recently the use of descriptors like “mild”, “light”, “ultra-light” and “low.” In 2014, FDA opened a comment period for the first modified risk tobacco product produced by Swedish Match as part of a joint venture with Philip Morris. One of the most effective ways of policing industry use of modified-risk tobacco labeling is product liability claims based on state common law torts. Section 916 of the Tobacco Control Act provides an ambiguously phrased preemption provision which will implicate the reach of Article VI preemption for FDA-approved products. This article is the first to analyze the heretofore unanswered question: what is the scope of constitutional preemption when Section 911 (modified risk tobacco products) and Section 916 (preemption of state law) are read together against the broader background of U.S. Supreme Court precedent that will shape that inquiry? Tobacco consumers will inevitably use state law causes of action to allege that the content of tobacco manufacturers’ modified risk claims are misleading, that modified risk claims extend use of non-modified risk claim products, and that modified risk tobacco products are used to shape risk perception across other product lines. At stake in answering the preemption question correctly is how the tobacco industry may use Section 911 to continue historical practices with FDA’s approval and the public health implications of doing so as well as the broader relationship between the 2009 Act and state law as FDA and federal courts shape the law’s implementation.
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