Social Theory & Health

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 482–501 | Cite as

U.S. federal tobacco control policy from 1964 to 2013: Were punctuated and significant public health reforms enacted?

Original Article


Currently, an academic controversy exists regarding whether U.S. tobacco control policy has been punctuated and rapid, primarily driven by federal policymaking or a combination of federal, state, and local policymaking, and has substantially reduced tobacco consumption. An analysis of U.S. tobacco control policy from 1964 to 2013 indicates federal policy change was not rapid and punctuated and some limited progress occurred in improving the public health. Asserting all U.S. tobacco control policy is purportedly punctuated because of federal tobacco control efforts also ignores discretionary policy output and outcome legislation and regulations operating solely at the state or local levels of government. Analyses of punctuated policy change trends must include operationalized policy outputs and outcomes grounded in scholarly historical and scientific research that analyzes all key policy issues such as clean indoor air linked to a general policy area, like tobacco control, to determine whether punctuation has occurred or not. In the case of federal, but not state tobacco policy, punctuation did not occur. Instead, there were some moderate and incremental advances in tobacco control contradicted by federal tobacco consumption and support policies.


punctuated equilibrium theory U.S. tobacco policy federal tobacco policy intergovernmental relations 


  1. Adams, E.K., Markowitz, S., Kannan, V., Dietz, P.M., Tong, V.T. and Malarcher, A.M. (2012) Reducing prenatal smoking: The role of state policies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 43: 34–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Lung Association. (2016) State legislated actions on tobacco issues (SLATI) State Pages. Retrieved from
  3. Bansal-Travers, M., Hammond, D., Smith, P. and Cummings, K. (2011) The impact of cigarette pack design, descriptors, and warning labels on risk perceptions in the U.S.. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40: 674–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baranoya, J. and Glantz, S.A. (2006) Cardiovascular effects of second-hand smoke help explain the benefits of smoke-free legislation on heart disease burden. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 21: 457–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baumgartner, F. and Jones, B. (1993) Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Baumgartner, F. and Jones, B. (2009) Agenda and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baumgartner, F. and Jones, B. (2015) The Politics of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  8. Behm, I., Kabir, Z., Connolly, G.N. and Alpert, H.R. (2012) Increasing prevalence of smoke-free homes and decreasing rates of sudden infant death syndrome in the United States: An ecological association study. Tobacco Control, 21: 6–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boushey, G. (2012) Punctuated equilibrium theory and the diffusion of innovations. Policy Studies Journal, 40: 127–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brandt, A. (2007) The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America. New York: Perseus Books Group.Google Scholar
  11. Cairney, P., Studlar, D. and Mamudu, H. (2012) Global Tobacco Control: Power, Policy. Palgrave Macmillan, London: Governance and Transfer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chaloupka, F.J., Cummings, K.M., Morley, C.P., and Horan, J.K. (2002) Tax, price and cigarette smoking: Evidence from the tobacco documents and implications for tobacco company marketing strategies. Tobacco Control, 11: i62–i72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chaloupka, F.J., Kostova, D. and Shang, C. (2013) Cigarette tax structure and cigarette prices: Evidence from the global adult tobacco survey and U.S. national adult tobacco survey. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Epub Before Print.Google Scholar
  14. Chaloupka, F.J., Straif, K. and Leon, M. (2010) Effectiveness of tax and price policies in tobacco control. Tobacco Control, 20: 235–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cheng, K.W., Glantz, S.A. and Lightwood, J.M. (2011) Association between smokefree laws and voluntary smokefree-home rules. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41: 566–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cheng, K.W., Okechukwu, C.A., Mcmillen, R. and Glantz, S.A. (2013) Association between clean indoor air laws and voluntary smokefree rules in homes and cars. Tobacco Control. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051121.Google Scholar
  17. Derthick, M. (2001) Keeping the Compound Republic: Essays on American Federalism. Washington: D.C., Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  18. Difranza, J.R. and Dussault, G.F. (2005) The federal initiative to halt the sale of tobacco in children–the Synar amendment, 1992–2000: lessons learned. Tobacco Control, 14: 93–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Downs, A. (1972) Up and down with ecology: The “Issue-Attention Cycle”. The Public Interest, 28: 38–50.Google Scholar
  20. Eldredge, N. (1989a) Macro-Evolutionary Processes: Species, Niches, and Adaptive Peaks. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  21. Eldredge, N. (1989b) Punctuated equilibria, rates of change, and large-scale entities in evolutionary systems. In A. S. Peterson (Ed.), The Dynamics of Evolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Eldredge, N. and Gould, S. (1972) Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism. San Francisco: Cooper and Co.Google Scholar
  23. Epp, D. and Baumgartner, F. (2016) Complexity, capacity, and budget punctuations. Policy Studies Journal.Google Scholar
  24. Family Smoking and Prevention Act. (2009).Google Scholar
  25. FDA Announces First Decisions on New Tobacco Products Through the Substantial Equivalence Pathway.Google Scholar
  26. Givel, M. (2006) Punctuated equilibrium in Limbo: The tobacco lobby and U.S. state tobacco policymaking from 1990 to 2003. Policy Studies Journal, 34: 405–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Givel, M. (2007) A comparison of the impact of U.S. and Canadian cigarette pack warning label requirements on tobacco industry profitability and the public health. Health Policy, 82: 343–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Givel, M. (2008) Assessing material and symbolic variations in punctuated equilibrium and public policy output patterns. Review of Policy Research, 25: 547–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Givel, M. (2010a) The evolution of the theoretical foundations of punctuated equilibrium theory in public policy. Review of Policy Research, 27: 187–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Givel, M. (2010b) Unexplained and Anomalous Policy Output Patterns in Punctuated Equilibrium Theory: Challenging the Dominant paradigm and Building a Better Theory. Challenging Orthodoxies: The Critical Governance Studies Conference. University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.Google Scholar
  31. Glantz, S. (2013a) FDA Process for Approving “Substantially Equivalent” Tobacco Products Keeps the Public in the Dark. Retrieved from
  32. Glantz, S. (2013b) White House Held up Release of FDA Scientific Report on Menthol for a Year. Retrieved from
  33. Gould, S. (1989) Punctuated equilibrium in fact and theory. In A. S. Peterson (Ed.), The Dynamics of Evolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Gould, S. (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Gould, S. and Eldredge, N. (1977) Punctuated equilibrium: The tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered. Paleobiology, 3: 115–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grossmann, M. (2015) Information and politics in American policy trends: Review symposium for the politics of information. Interest Groups & Advocacy, 4: 302–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hammond, D., Fong, G., Borland, R., Cummings, K., Mcneil, A. and Driezen, P. (2007) Text and graphic warnings on cigarette packages: Findings From the international tobacco control four country study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 32: 210–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Harris, J.K., Gereamkis, C., Moreland-Russell, S., Carothers, B.J., Kariuki, B., Shelton, S.C., et al. (2011) Demographic and geographic differences in exposure to secondhand smoke in Missouri workplaces, 2007–2008. Prevention of Chronic Diseases, 8: A135.Google Scholar
  39. Hopkins, D.P., Razi, S., Leeks, K.D., Kalra, G., Chattopadhyay, S.K., Soler, R.E., et al. (2010) Smokefree policies to reduce tobacco use: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 38: S275–S289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Howlett, M. (1997) Issue-attention and punctuated equilibria models reconsidered: An emperical examination of the dynamics of agenda-setting in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 30: 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. John, P. and Bevan, S. (2012) What are policy punctuations? Large changes in the legislative agenda of the UK Government, 1911–2008. Policy Studies Journal, 40: 89–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Johnson, L. (2010) Science & technology innovation as a complex adaptive system: Applying the natural processes of complexity to policymaking. Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association.Google Scholar
  43. Johnston, L., O’Malley, P. and Terry-Mcelrath, Y. (2004). Methods, locations, and ease of cigarette access for American youth, 1997–2002. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 27: 267–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jones, S., Sharp, D., Husten, C. and Crossett, L. (2002) Cigarette acquisition and proof of age among U.S. high school students who smoke. Tobacco Control, 11: 20–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kraemer, J.D. and Baig, S.A. (2013) Analysis of legal and scientific issues in court challenges to graphic warning labels. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45: 334–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Miller, J. and Page, S. (2007) Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. National Cancer Institute. (2013) Tobacco Research. Retrieved from
  48. National Institute for Health. (2013) Funding Opportunities and Notices. Retrieved from
  49. Pressman, J. and Wildavsky, A. (1983) Implementation. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  50. Prindle, D. (2012) Importing concepts from biology into political science: The case of punctuated equilibrium. Policy Studies Journal, 40: 21–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ragin, C. (2007) Comparative methods. In W. Outhwaite & S. Turner (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Social Science Methodology. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  52. Repetto, R. (2006) Introduction. In R. Repetto (Ed.), Punctuated Equilibrium and the Dynamics of U.S. Environmental Policy. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Robertson, D. (2012) Federalism and the Making of America. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. Schneider, S., Meyer, C., Yamamoto, S. and Solle, D. (2009). Implementation of electronic locking devices for adolescents at german tobacco vending machines: Intended and unintended changes of supply and demand. Tobacco Control, 18: 294–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Scott, K. (2011) Federalism: A Normative Theory and Its Practical Relevance. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  56. Studlar, D. (2001) Tobacco Control: Comparative Politics in the United States and Canada. Toronto: Broadview Press.Google Scholar
  57. Studlar, D. (2010) What explains the paradox of tobacco control policy under federalism in the U.S. and Canada? Comparative federalism theory versus multi-level governance. Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 40: 389–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tobacco Market Transition Act. (2003) 5 U.S.C. 3109 and 5315, 7 U.S.C. 1, 1281, 1445, 1445-1, 1445-2, 1932, 1935 and 2, 18 U.S.C. 202, and 19 U.S.C. 2342 and 2343. Google Scholar
  59. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013) Smoking & Tobacco Use: Office of Smoking and Health. Retrieved from
  60. United States Federal Trade Commission. (2013) FTC Releases Reports on 2011 Cigarette and Smokeless Tobacco Advertising and Promotion. Retrieved from
  61. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2013a) About the Center for Tobacco Products. Retrieved from
  62. United States Food and Drug Administration (2013b).Google Scholar
  63. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2013c) Funding Opportunities. Retrieved from
  64. United States Surgeon General. (2013) Tobacco. Retrieved from
  65. Wood, R. (2006) Tobacco’s tipping point: The master settlement agreement as a focusing event. Policy Studies Journal, 34: 419–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wood, D. and Doan, A. (2003) The politics of problem definition: Applying and testing threshold models. American Journal of Political Science, 47: 640–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. World Health Organization. (2013) Only 100% Smoke-free Environments Adequately Protect from Dangers of Second-hand Smoke. Retrieved from
  68. Worsham, J. (2006) Up in smoke: Mapping subsystem dynamics in tobacco policy. Policy Studies Journal, 34: 437–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

Personalised recommendations