U.S. House Casts Historic Vote to Protect Kids from Tobacco, Save Lives; Senate Should Act This Year and President Should Sign Bill Into Law

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

Jul. 30 2008

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives today cast a truly historic vote to protect children from tobacco addiction and save lives by overwhelmingly approving legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products. This is the first time the House has ever approved such legislation. Today's vote by a clear veto-proof margin of 326 to 102 underscores the broad, bipartisan support for this legislation and provides powerful momentum for enacting it into law this year.

The House vote is a giant step toward ending the special protection the tobacco industry has enjoyed for too long and at such great cost to the nation's health. Now the Senate should seize this unprecedented opportunity to protect the nation's health and approve this legislation when it returns in September. With 57 sponsors and several other senators who have committed to supporting the bill, the Senate has the votes to pass this legislation this year. It is disappointing that some of the President's advisors have said they would recommend a veto of the bill. We urge the President to support this historic effort to protect our children and address the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

We applaud the bill's sponsors, U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and Tom Davis, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell and Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone for their leadership 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 has strong support across the nation. It has been endorsed by more than 680 public health, medical, faith and other organizations (See list). It is supported by 70 percent of American voters, with support across political lines, geographic regions and even by a majority of smokers, according to a poll conducted in May 2008 (View detailed poll results). Last year, 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.

This legislation is urgently needed. 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. Yet tobacco products are virtually unregulated to protect public health. This lack of regulation allows tobacco companies to market their deadly and addictive products to children, deceive consumers about the harm their products cause, make changes to their products without disclosing them (such as manipulating nicotine and menthol levels in cigarettes), and resist any meaningful change to make their products less harmful.

This legislation would grant the FDA strong and effective authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. It would:

  • Impose specific restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to kids. Among other things, it would limit tobacco advertising in publications with significant teen readership and outdoor and point-of-sale advertising to black-and-white text only and provide for enforcement and penalties against retailers who sell tobacco products to minors.
  • Grant the FDA authority to further restrict tobacco marketing to the full extent allowed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
  • Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, changes to their products and research about the health effects of their products.
  • Grant the FDA broad authority to require changes in tobacco products, such as the reduction or removal of harmful ingredients and the reduction of nicotine to non-addictive levels. This includes the authority to reduce or eliminate menthol in cigarettes.
  • Ban candy-flavored cigarettes.
  • Require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco products and advertising. Health warnings would have to cover 30 percent of the front and rear panels of tobacco packages, and the FDA could require graphic warnings that cover 50 percent of the front and rear panels.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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 its 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.

We urge Congress to enact this life-saving legislation into law this year. There are few steps Congress can take that would make a bigger difference for our nation's health.

See how members of Congress voted.

More information on FDA regulation of tobacco.
 

 

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