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Federal Laws and Policies

Tobacco control laws and other government policies aim to: 

  • Prevent people, particularly children and youth, from starting to use tobacco
  • Help people quit using tobacco products
  • Reduce the harmful effects caused by tobacco use

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Regulation to Protect Public Health

Click this image for a full-size version of the FDA Regulation to Protect Public Health

View FDA’s infographic to learn about the milestones in their work on:

  • Regulating tobacco
  • Protecting kids from buying tobacco
  • Assessing the behavioral and health impact of tobacco regulation

About Tobacco Laws and Regulations

Why is tobacco control important?

Tobacco control programs aim to reduce disease, disability, and death related to tobacco use. A comprehensive approach—one that includes educational, clinical, regulatory, economic, and social strategies—has been established as the best way to eliminate the negative health and economic effects of tobacco use.

What is the difference between a law and a regulation?

Federal laws, like the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act), are passed by Congress and signed by the president. These laws are usually enforced through executive branch agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Laws can also be enacted at the state and local level to protect public health and make tobacco products less affordable, less accessible, and less attractive. For example, states may pass smoke-free indoor air laws and cigarette price increases, which have been proven to reduce cigarette use, prevent youth from starting to smoke, and encourage people to try to quit.

The executive branch, when authorized by Congress, enacts Federal regulations. States can also introduce regulations. Most regulations are developed by a government agency with public input. For example, FDA issues tobacco-related regulations under authority provided by the Tobacco Control Act through a notice and comment rulemaking process. This process allows for public input before FDA issues the final regulation. Learn more about regulations.

Why does the government ask for public input on regulatory issues?

Federal agencies request public input to help create the most effective policies and strategies to improve public health. Public participation is important when agencies:

  • Publish proposed regulations
  • Issue draft and final guidance documents (documents that, when finalized, represent an agency’s current thinking on a topic)
  • Conduct public meetings and hearings
  • Open public dockets to solicit information on specific issues

See www.regulations.gov for more information:

Highlights of Federal Tobacco Control Efforts

1964 - First Report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health

  • Identifies smoking as a cause of increased mortality.

1965 – Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act

  • Requires a health warning on cigarette packages.
  • Requires Federal Trade Commission to submit annual report to Congress on tobacco industry advertising and labeling practices.
  • Requires Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to submit annual report to Congress on health consequences of smoking.

1970 – Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act

  • Requires a health warning on cigarette packages.
  • Prohibits cigarette advertising on television and radio.

1984 – Comprehensive Smoking Education Act

  • Institutes use of four rotating health warning labels, all listed as Surgeon General’s Warnings, on cigarette packages and advertisements.

1986 – Comprehensive Smokeless Tobacco Health Education Act

  • Institutes use of three rotating health warning labels on smokeless tobacco packages and advertisements.
  • Prohibits smokeless tobacco advertising on television and radio.
  • Requires Department of Health and Human Services to publish a report every two years to Congress on smokeless tobacco.
  • Requires Federal Trade Commission to report annually to Congress on smokeless tobacco sales, advertising, and marketing.
  • Requires smokeless industry to submit confidential list of additives and nicotine content in smokeless tobacco products. 

1988 – Amendment to Federal Aviation Act

  • Makes domestic flights of two hours or less smoke-free.

1992 – Synar Amendment to the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act requires states to:

  • Enact laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco products to minors
  • Enforce these laws in a way that can reasonably be expected to reduce the availability of tobacco products to youth under the age of 18
  • Conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets
  • Report annual findings to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

1996 – Regulations Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Cigarettes and Smokeless Tobacco to Protect Children and Adolescents

  • Asserts jurisdiction over tobacco products, issuing this final rule restricting the sale and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to protect youth. (In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that FDA did not have the authority to regulate tobacco and that such regulation required authorization by Congress.)

2000 – Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act

  • Prohibits smoking on all flights between the United States and foreign destinations.

2009 – Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) – Some parts of this law, and FDA regulations authorized by it, are currently subject to litigation, making the implementation of these provisions uncertain.

Portions of this law are currently subject to litigation.

Timeline: Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act

View an accessible version of this infographic.

Read FDA’s Overview of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act: Consumer Fact Sheet for more information.

2010 – Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act – Some parts of this law are currently subject to litigation.

  • Prohibits the mailing of cigarettes (including roll-your-own tobacco) and smokeless tobacco through the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Requires internet and mail-order sales retailers to comply with age verification requirements.
  • Among other things, requires internet and other mail-order retailers to pay appropriate federal, state, local, and tribal taxes for cigarettes (including roll-your-own tobacco) and smokeless tobacco.

Learn more about U.S. Government actions regarding the regulation of tobacco sales, marketing, and use.

About Tobacco Marketing Laws and Policies

There are several federal laws, federal regulations, and legal agreements that govern the advertising and marketing of tobacco products, some of which are listed below. State and local governments may have additional requirements that apply to the advertising and promotion of tobacco products.

1998 – Master Settlement Agreement Site exit disclaimer

The Attorneys General of 46 states and the District of Columbia signed the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with the four largest tobacco companies in the United States. (The other four states had already reached separate agreements with the tobacco companies). Since the agreement was signed, about 40 other tobacco companies have signed on and are also bound by its terms.

According to the MSA, participating tobacco companies are bound by the following:

  • Agreement to pay the states billions of dollars annually to compensate for tobacco-related health care costs.
  • Limitations on advertising, marketing, and promotion of cigarettes.
  • Prohibition on tobacco advertising that targets people younger than 18, including the use of cartoons.
  • Limitations on outdoor, billboard, and public transit advertising.
  • Prohibition on the use of cigarette brand names on other products.
  • Providing tobacco company internal documents to the public.

Generally, the terms of the MSA mean that participating states may not bring other related legal claims against the tobacco companies.

2009 – Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act

Several parts of the Tobacco Control Act restrict tobacco product advertising and marketing to youth by directing FDA to issue regulations, including:

  • Limiting the color and design of packaging and advertisements
  • Prohibiting tobacco product sponsorship of sporting, entertainment, or other cultural events under the brand name of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco
  • Prohibiting free samples of cigarettes and restricting free sampling of smokeless tobacco
  • Prohibiting cigarette and smokeless tobacco brand names on non-tobacco items

Portions of this law are currently subject to litigation.

State and Local Laws

There are many state and local laws and regulations that apply to tobacco products. For example, states have:

  • Implemented smoke-free air laws, which prohibit smoking in public places and workplaces.
  • Increased tobacco excise taxes, which increase the purchase price of tobacco products.
  • Ensured Medicaid covers treatment of tobacco use, which increases quit attempts by improving access and affordability of effective cessation strategies.
  • Enacted prohibitions on the sale of flavored tobacco products.

State-Based Tobacco Control Programs

It is of particular importance that states create comprehensive, sustainable tobacco prevention and control programs. There are many resources available that explain how to plan and establish effective tobacco control programs to prevent and reduce tobacco use. There are also resources that explain approaches taken by state, local, territorial, and tribal governments.

Resources to Track State-Level Legislation