U researcher: tobacco products need harsher regulation

Dorothy Hatsukami helped lead a national dialogue on potential solutions to tobacco related deaths and illness.

It may not be the cure for cancer, but one University of Minnesota professor knows the surefire way to end tobacco-related deaths and illnesses: a world without cigarettes. Psychiatry professor Dorothy Hatsukami co-chaired a national task force called The Strategic Dialogue on Tobacco Harm Reduction, which recently released a report that called for stricter regulatory control over tobacco products in order to help reduce the amount of death and disease from tobacco each year. âÄúThe vision then is, really, try to eliminate or significantly reduce cigarettes,âÄù said Hatsukami, who also leads the UniversityâÄôs Tobacco Use Research Center. Smoking and tobacco use kills 440,000 people each year, she said, and costs the nation about $200 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity. The team consisted of more than two dozen top researchers and policy-makers from around the country, including HatsukamiâÄôs co-chair Mitchell Zeller, formerly of the Food and Drug Administration. A major focus of the report is in turning the regulation of tobacco products over to the FDA, something Zeller had previously tried to accomplish, Hatsukami said. âÄúWhat product is sold to consumers that has a 50 percent chance of killing you prematurely?âÄù she asked, adding that the group advocates for the creation of national standards for tobacco products that would limit the levels of certain toxins. Development of stronger smoking cessation programs and anti-smoking media campaigns are also emphasized in the report. Because nicotine is highly addictive, Hatsukami said students should avoid starting smoking if at all possible. Smoking cessation programs are available through Boynton Health Service, said Dave Golden, director of marketing and public health, but are rarely used by students. According to a student health survey conducted by Boynton, only about 4 percent of University students smoke on a daily basis. Most college students start as occasional smokers, he said. âÄúAlmost every smoker describes the same thing,âÄù Golden said. âÄúAs they continue to use, it becomes easier and easier to become addicted. ItâÄôs the intent of the manufacturers to make it work that way.âÄù Last fall, University officials took steps toward considering a full campus smoking ban. Hatsukami said measures like the outdoor ban, which would eliminate some of the risk for students to start smoking and assist in students looking to quit, are a step in the right direction. But no new development in the process has been made, Katherine Himes, senior vice president of academic affairs, said. Although the ProvostâÄôs office had originally been aiming for early March, many of the people involved are working on budget-related issues, she said, so the decision may come later than expected. — Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter