CDC’s Tobacco Lab Aids FDA Regulations
Even though smoking is the leading preventable cause of lung cancer, prior to the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, tobacco products in the United States were not regulated to reduce their impact on public health.
David Ashley (far left) leads a Tobacco Lab tour for the CDC director and FDA representatives in 2009. Jim Pirkle, Tom Frieden, Peggy Hamburg and Joshua Sharfstein participate (left to right). Photo by Jim Gathany
An important measurement from the Tobacco Lab that tracks exposure to tobacco smoke is serum cotinine. Cotinine is the main breakdown product of nicotine in the body and persists in the body longer than nicotine.
Serum cotinine data from the Tobacco Lab documenting secondhand smoke exposure in almost 90 percent of the US population was highly influential in promoting the banning of smoking in public places, including work places and restaurants in the mid-1990s. The policy's enforcement nationwide has resulted in a consistent drop in exposure, say CDC scientists.
In the challenge to regulate tobacco products, the FDA has a formidable ally—CDC's Tobacco Laboratory.
Housed at CDC's Chamblee campus, the laboratory is part of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and provides data that tracks exposure to constituents of tobacco smoke in the US population.
"We look at the whole tobacco exposure gamut – what’s in the product, what’s in the smoke, and ultimately, what gets into people," says Clifford Watson, PhD, lead research chemist at the Lab.
CDC scientist Clifford Watson examines physical properties and tobacco blend, using a combination of techniques including microscopy. Photo Provided by Division of Laboratory Sciences, NCEH
With the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the FDA has regulatory authority over tobacco products for the first time in history. Soon after the legislation became law, FDA and CDC signed an interagency agreement to work together to provide a sound science base to any future regulations of tobacco products.
David Ashley, PhD, serves as director of FDA’s Office of Science in the Center for Tobacco Products. He says while FDA works with many entities its partnership with CDC is particularly strategic.
"As a [Health and Human Services] partner, we are brother and sister, not just neighbors," says Ashley. "We depend very heavily on the laboratory at CDC since the foundation of everything we do is based on science. The folks of CDC are providing a tremendous amount of information for us that will really make a difference long term in ensuring the regulations we write are as effective as possible."
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