House Health Subcommittee Acts to Protect Kids and Save Lives By Approving Bill to Regulate Tobacco Products

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Mar. 11 2008

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health today acted to protect our children and the nation’s health by approving legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products. This is a very strong bill that provides the FDA with ample resources and effective authority to bring about fundamental change that will promote public health.

Today’s subcommittee vote moves Congress a critical step closer to enacting truly historic legislation that can protect our children from tobacco addiction and save countless lives. There are few actions Congress can take that would make a bigger difference for our nation’s health. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone and U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and Tom Davis, the bill’s sponsors, have been true champions of public health in moving this legislation forward.

Companion Senate legislation was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on August 1. We urge both the Senate and the House to quickly enact this long-overdue legislation into law and to reject all efforts to weaken it. It is clear from the strong support in both political parties and both chambers of Congress that Congress has the votes to pass this bipartisan legislation now. A Senate majority of 56 senators are sponsoring this legislation, as are 217 members of the House.

This legislation is supported by more than 600 public health, faith and other organizations across the country, including every major national public health organization. According to a national poll conducted last year, 70 percent of voters support Congress passing this legislation, with support across political lines, geographic regions and even by a majority of smokers (View detailed poll results). In 2007, both the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences and the President’s Cancer Panel issued landmark reports endorsing FDA regulation of tobacco products.

The need for this legislation couldn’t be clearer. Tobacco use is the nation’s leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people and costing nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. Every day, another 1,200 Americans die from tobacco use and more than 1,000 children become new regular smokers.

Despite the death and disease they cause, tobacco products are virtually unregulated to protect public health. Tobacco companies take advantage of this lack of regulation to design and market products that entice children, create and sustain addiction to nicotine, and discourage current smokers from quitting, as demonstrated by a report released last month by a coalition of public health organizations (View the report). The report reveals how tobacco manufacturers have responded to declines in smoking by introducing a new generation of deadly and addictive products, including candy and fruit-flavored products that appeal to kids and products that try to deter smokers from quitting by making unproven and misleading claims that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

The legislation approved today would grant the FDA authority to:

  • Restrict tobacco advertising and promotions, especially to children.
  • Ban candy-flavored cigarettes.
  • Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, changes to their products and research about the health effects of their products.
  • Require changes in tobacco products, such as the removal or reduction of harmful ingredients.
  • Prohibit health claims about so-called “reduced risk” products that are not scientifically proven or that would discourage current tobacco users from quitting or encourage new users to start.
  • Require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco products.
  • Prohibit misleading terms such as “low-tar,” “light” and “mild.”

The FDA is the right agency to regulate tobacco products because it is the only agency with the combination of regulatory experience, scientific expertise and public health mandate to do the job right. It is also important to note that the legislation would require tobacco companies to pay user fees that would amply fund the FDA’s new tobacco-related responsibilities and ensure they do not impede or take resources from the FDA’s other important work. The legislation also prohibits tobacco manufacturers from claiming that any tobacco product has been approved by the FDA.

By enacting this legislation into law this year, Congress can finally end the special protection the tobacco industry has enjoyed for far too long and instead protect our children and the nation’s health.

 

Media Contacts