Public Health Groups Call on Congress to Finally Pass Bipartisan Legislation Granting FDA Authority Over Tobacco

Statement of American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Mar. 17 2005

Washington, DC - Bipartisan legislation introduced today in Congress provides the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with effective authority to regulate tobacco products and once again puts this important public health issue on the Congressional agenda. In 2004, Congress came closer than ever to enacting into law this long-overdue protection of the public health when the Senate twice approved it by overwhelming margins. Congress should finish the job this year and finally put into place a national tobacco policy that protects our kids from tobacco addiction and addresses the number one preventable cause of death in our country. Every day Congress fails to act, another 1,200 Americans die from tobacco use and another 2,000 children become addicted.

We applaud U.S. Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and U.S. Representatives Tom Davis (R-VA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) for their bipartisan leadership in introducing strong, identical bills that put protection of the public health first. The time is now for Congress to enact this legislation into law. We are pleased that both of these bills have strong, bipartisan support.

FDA authority over tobacco is more important than ever as the tobacco companies continue to find new ways to hook children and keep smokers addicted. Until Congress grants the FDA this authority, the tobacco companies will be free to continue selling candy-flavored cigarettes and engage in other marketing that appeals to children. They will continue to mislead consumers and discourage smokers from quitting by making unproven claims that some tobacco products are safer than others. And they will continue to hide the truth about the dangers of their products and fail to take even the most minimal steps to reduce the number of Americans who die from tobacco use.

Every year in America, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people and costs us more than $89 billion in health care bills. Unlike all other products we consume, tobacco products are virtually unregulated to protect consumers’ health and safety. The legislation introduced today would finally end the special protection enjoyed by the tobacco industry and protect our children and the nation’s health instead. This legislation meets the standards long established by the public health community for a strong FDA tobacco regulation bill that protects public health. The FDA would have the authority to:

  • Restrict tobacco advertising and promotions, especially to children.
  • Stop illegal sales of tobacco products to children.
  • Require changes in tobacco products, such as the reduction or elimination of harmful chemicals, to make them less harmful or less addictive.
  • Prohibit unsubstantiated health claims about so-called “reduced risk” tobacco products that would have the effect of discouraging current tobacco users from quitting or encouraging new users to start.
  • Ban candy and fruit flavorings in cigarettes.
  • Require the disclosure of the contents of tobacco products and tobacco industry research about the health effects of their products.
  • Require larger and more informative health warnings on tobacco products.
  • Prohibit terms such as “light”, “mild” and “low-tar” that have mislead consumers into believing that certain cigarettes are safer than others when that is not the case.

Overall, this legislation would bring about significant changes in every aspect of the manufacturing, marketing, labeling, distribution and sale of tobacco products. These measures can significantly reduce the number of people who start to smoke and significantly increase the number of smokers who quit. The result will be to greatly reduce the number of people who use tobacco products and become sick and die as a result.

Recent tobacco industry practices underscore the urgent need for this legislation. Tobacco companies are marketing flavored cigarettes to appeal to children and teens that are just as deadly and addictive as other cigarettes, but are spiked with candy and fruit flavors. R.J. Reynolds markets its Camel cigarettes in flavors such as Warm Winter Toffee, Winter Mocha Mint, Kauai Kolada (pineapple and coconut) and Twista Lime. RJR played a key role in defeating FDA legislation last year precisely so it could continue to engage in this irresponsible marketing.

The tobacco companies also continue to take advantage of their unregulated status to market so-called “reduced risk” cigarettes with claims like “all of the taste…less of the toxins” (Brown & Williamson’s Advance cigarettes); “reduced carcinogens, premium taste” (Vector’s Omni cigarettes); and “less risk of cancer” (R.J. Reynolds’ Eclipse). Currently, no government agency has the authority to make sure these claims are scientifically proven and the products are marketed responsibly.

Granting the FDA authority over tobacco is one of the most important steps Congress could ever take to protect the health of our children and significantly reduce the toll of smoking, including cancer, heart disease, emphysema and many other diseases. We are heartened that Congress last year came closer than ever before to enacting FDA authority into law and are hopeful that this year, FDA authority over tobacco will finally become law.

 

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