House Committee Votes 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

Apr. 2 2008

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee today has taken decisive action to protect our children from tobacco addiction and save lives by approving legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products. Today?s 38 to 12 vote demonstrates the growing momentum and broad, bipartisan support behind this legislation. It is the first time a House committee has ever approved such legislation. By enacting this legislation into law this year, Congress can seize a truly historic opportunity to address the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. There are few actions Congress can take that would make a bigger difference for our nation?s health.

It is clear from the strong support in both political parties and in both the House and Senate that Congress has the votes to pass this legislation now. The legislation has been sponsored by a majority of both the House and Senate, with 218 House sponsors and 56 Senate sponsors. Companion Senate legislation was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on August 1.

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. We are eager to continue working with them and the Senate sponsors, Senators Edward Kennedy and John Cornyn, to enact this legislation into law.

This legislation is supported by more than 630 public health, faith and other organizations across the country, including every major national public health organization (see list at www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/fda/organizations.pdf). 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 (detailed poll results: http://tobaccofreekids.org/fdapoll/). 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 kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation 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 recent report by a coalition of public health organizations (report: www.tobaccofreekids.org/productsreport). 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. The pending legislation is carefully crafted to ensure the FDA?s new tobacco-related responsibilities do not in any way impede or take resources from the FDA?s current responsibilities. The legislation would require tobacco companies to pay user fees that would fully fund the FDA?s tobacco-related responsibilities so no funding is taken from the FDA?s current work. The legislation would also create a new, separate center for tobacco product regulation within the FDA, leaving existing offices and functions within FDA undisturbed by this new authority.

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

 

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