U.S. Senate Casts Historic Vote to Regulate Tobacco Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jun. 11 2009

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Senate today delivered a truly historic victory for America's children and health by approving legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco products. Forty-five years after the first U.S. Surgeon General's report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, the most deadly product sold in America will no longer be the least regulated product sold in America.

Today's 79-17 vote underscores the bipartisan consensus that the time finally has come to end the special protection the tobacco industry has enjoyed for too long and at such great cost to the nation's health. The House passed similar legislation 298-112 in April, and Congress is expected to quickly send a final bill to President Obama, who is eager to sign it into law. This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. If effectively implemented, it will significantly reduce the number of children who start to use tobacco, the number of adults who continue to use tobacco and the number of people who suffer and die as a result.

We applaud Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the bill sponsor, for his leadership and tenacity in championing this legislation. This bill adds to his incomparable legacy of improving the health and health care of all Americans. We applaud the many senators who have played a leadership role in this effort, including Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) who shepherded the legislation through committee and the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). This is truly bipartisan legislation. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has been a leader on the legislation for the past several years, and the bill received critical support at every stage of the Senate debate from Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

This legislation is an essential step toward improving health and reducing health care costs in the United States. Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans each year, sickens millions more and costs the nation $96 billion annually in health care bills. Yet, until now, tobacco products have escaped the FDA's common-sense regulations that apply every other product we consume, from food to drugs to cosmetics. The lack of regulation has allowed tobacco companies to market their deadly and addictive products to children, deceive consumers about the harm their products cause and manipulate their products in ways that make them even more harmful and addictive. This legislation at long last will stop these harmful practices.

This legislation will grant the FDA the authority and resources necessary to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. Among other things, it will:

  • Restrict tobacco advertising and promotions, especially to children.
  • Stop illegal sales of tobacco products to children.
  • Require large, graphic health warnings that cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packs.
  • Ban misleading health claims such as "light" and "low-tar."
  • Strictly regulate all health claims about tobacco products to ensure they are scientifically proven and do not discourage current tobacco users from quitting or encourage new users to start.
  • Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, as well as changes in products and research about their health effects.
  • Empower the FDA to require changes in tobacco products, such as the removal or reduction of harmful ingredients or the reduction of nicotine levels.
  • Fully fund the FDA's new tobacco-related responsibilities with a user fee on tobacco companies so no resources are taken from the FDA's current work.

This legislation has strong, bipartisan support across the nation. It has been endorsed by more than 1,000 public health, faith and other organizations. A poll last year found that 70 percent of American voters support FDA regulation of tobacco products. It has been endorsed by scientific authorities including the Institute of Medicine and the President's Cancer Panel. The long-overdue regulation of tobacco products is an enormous achievement for America's health.

 

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