Jan. 28 1998
Washington, DC - "If tough, comprehensive legislation is not passed in 1998, or if it is weak and ineffective, there will only be one winner -- the tobacco industry. Meaningful legislation will save lives and protect kids; anything else will condemn our nation to continue dealing with a deadly epidemic of youth tobacco addiction." - Matthew Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Streets and neighborhoods free of pervasive tobacco advertising; convenience stores with cigarettes behind the counter; a tobacco industry forced to tell the truth about its deadly products. For years these have been the dreams of parents and public health advocates. But today, decades after the fight to control tobacco in America began, they have suddenly become a very real possibility. By all accounts, the 1998 session of Congress will be critical in determining whether the nation finally addresses the most preventable cause of disease and death in America. For the first time, Congress is expected to address comprehensive tobacco control legislation to drive down youth and adult smoking rates and curb exposure to second hand smoke. "Congress has the public support, it has the ability, and now it has the unprecedented opportunity to pass comprehensive tobacco legislation this year," said Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Bill Novelli. Congress will consider comprehensive tobacco control legislation at a time when public support for prompt action is strong, according to polling data from the Campaign. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed think that Congress should address the issue of a nationaltobacco policy within the next six months. Unlike many other issues, however, voters feel as though this action will make a real difference in their lives and the lives of children. The tobacco survey revealed that more than 70 percent of those polled believe that a national tobacco policy is important to help parents discourage their kids from smoking. Voters also expressed strong support for many of the specific tobacco control elements that have been discussed, such as restricting advertising aimed at kids and initiating broad public education efforts. This is good news to public health groups, who have consistently argued that only through attacking tobacco at every level -- from the convenience store counter right up to the executive suites of the tobacco companies -- can true progress on tobacco be made. "Each individual action on tobacco alone will not solve the problem of youth smoking, but together, as a comprehensive policy, they will change forever the role of tobacco in our lives." Novelli said. When Novelli and others talk about a comprehensive policy which they hope will become the law of the land, they are clear about what is needed. In addition to protecting the health of all Americans by restricting smoking in public places, they want to put an end to manipulative tobacco marketing campaigns aimed at kids. Recently-released documents show that the tobacco industry has targeted kids as young as 13 years old. And, Novelli and others believe Congress must enact strong laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to youngsters while raising the price of tobacco, so kids are less able to afford it. Another piece they say is a central part of the tobacco puzzle is getting out the truth about tobacco. That means a national education and prevention program about the dangers of tobacco use in schools, the media and communities, as well as placement of meaningful health warnings on cigarette packs. It also means holding the tobacco industry accountable if youth smoking rates do not dramatically decline by set amounts over a certain length of time. For the first time, tobacco will be monitored and regulated in much the same way as other dangerous consumer products. "The unfortunate history of fighting the tobacco industry in America has proven that piecemeal efforts simply don’t work," said Tobacco-Free Kids Vice-President Matt Myers. "To be effective, tobacco legislation must be comprehensive." Myers also believes that last June’s proposed settlement agreement between the tobacco industry and many state Attorneys General should serve as a catalyst for legislation, but should not be enacted as negotiated because of its serious flaws. "If tough, comprehensive legislation is not passed in 1998, or if it is weak and ineffective, there will only be one winner -- the tobacco industry," Myers continued. "Meaningful legislation will save lives and protect kids; anything else will condemn our nation to continue dealing with a deadly epidemic of youth tobacco addiction." It is an epidemic that, according to public health leaders, continues to grow worse. Surveys show that more and more kids are picking up the habit, with tobacco use by high school seniors recently reaching a staggering 19-year high. Of the 3,000 kids that become regular smokers every day, 1,000 will die prematurely from tobacco related diseases. And for those youngsters, President Clinton stated a wish in his 1998 State of the Union address: "Let this Congress be the Congress that saved their lives." Some members of Congress appear to have heard the call for action to finally deal with this problem. A handful of tobacco policy proposals have been introduced, and more are expected in the next few weeks. So the next, and most important, question is -- can Congress get it done this year? The answer, according to the public health groups leading the charge, is an unequivocal yes. "There’s no question that Congress can do it. We think that when members of Congress see the deep public support for action, and they understand the incredible opportunity that exists, they’ll make tobacco history by passing the first-ever comprehensive tobacco control policy. It will be a wonderful legacy for the 105th Congress to leave behind for America’s kids," Novelli concluded. For many parents and public health leaders, that would be a dream come true. # # # 897 words Note to Editors: This feature release may carry your reporter’s byline, if desired, and may be edited for length. It may also be of interest to your editorial board. Bold-faced paragraph above is suitable for pull-quote (quote also appears just under feature headline).