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December 2012

American Thoracic Society Dismayed by Ruling on Cigarette Warning Labels

The American Thoracic Society is disappointed in today’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C to deny the federal government's request to reconsider an earlier decision blocking a requirement that tobacco companies put large graphic health warnings on cigarette packages.
In August, the court affirmed a lower court ruling blocking the FDA mandate, saying it infringed on First Amendment free speech protections.
“There is ample evidence in peer-reviewed literature that graphic warning labels, when combined with other interventions, are effective in getting smokers to quit and discouraging people from starting to smoke,” said Alexander C. White MS, MD, Chair of the American Thoracic Society’s Tobacco Action Committee. “Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States.”
The FDA has 90 days to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ATS strongly encourages an appeal of this ill-informed decision.

ATS Applauds EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standard

While the American Thoracic Society welcomes the lower National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particulate matter announced today by the Environmental Protection Agency, we are disappointed that the EPA didn't act to more fully protect public health via the more stringent standards that the ATS supports.
The EPA’s new standard is 12 μg/m3 annual average/35 μg/m3 daily average. The ATS supports a particulate matter standard of 11 μg/m3 annual average and 25 μg/m3 daily average.
“The ATS is a staunch advocate for more stringent ambient air quality standards,” said John R. Balmes, MD, chair of the ATS Environmental Health Policy Committee. “The scientific evidence linking exposure to air pollution with serious adverse health effects is extensive. These ill effects include impaired pulmonary function, asthma exacerbations, increased hospital and emergency room visits, and increased mortality among individuals with preexisting cardiopulmonary disease.”
The EPA’s action is in response to a court order to finalize a revised standard for particulate matter by this December. The current standard of 15 μg/m3 annual average and 35 μg/m3 daily average was established in 2006 and has been rejected by the courts as failing to protect public health as required under the Clean Air Act, which requires that the EPA establish ambient air quality standards for pollutants for which there is sufficient scientific evidence of harm to public health. The courts remanded the standard back to the EPA for reconsideration.  
“It is widely recognized in the scientific community that particulate matter air pollution is hazardous to human health,” said Dr. Balmes. “On the basis of this strong evidence, the American Thoracic Society supports adoption of an even tighter air quality standard, but we applaud the EPA for moving today so strongly in the right direction.”

For further comment, Dr. Balmes, professor in residence at the University of California, San Francisco, can be reached at jbalmes@medsfgh.ucsf.edu.