Aug. 26 2009
Washington, D.C. — The incomparable legacy of Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the protection of America's public health is a lasting tribute to his memory. Senator Kennedy was among the first in Congress to fully comprehend the devastating effects of tobacco use in the U.S. He was in the vanguard of supporters of FDA regulation of tobacco at a time when it was political anathema to even suggest government regulation of an industry which had always been protected by powerful friends in Congress. But Ted Kennedy knew it was the right thing to do.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the authority to regulate tobacco had to be expressly granted by Congress, Senator Kennedy took action. He worked unstintingly, in many cases reaching across the aisle, to craft legislation to empower the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco. He wrote and spoke eloquently about the need to stop the tobacco companies from targeting children. He reminded his colleagues about the terrible toll of tobacco addiction and disease on America's families. And slowly but surely, his message began to break through.
In 2004, despite White House opposition, Senator Kennedy succeeded in getting the Senate to pass the FDA tobacco legislation but the House leadership was able to kill the bill in a conference committee. Where lesser men would have given up the fight, Senator Kennedy only strengthened his resolve to pass the tobacco bill. He never lost hope. He said he'd get it done, and five years later, he did.
Earlier this year, both the Senate and House passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act finally authorizing the FDA to regulate the tobacco industry. At the signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama paid tribute to Senator Kennedy's outstanding leadership in getting this major public health legislation passed and signed into law. Although he was, by that time, too ill to attend the White House ceremony, his presence was felt by everyone there.
Over the years, Senator Edward M. Kennedy has become an inspiration not only to tobacco prevention advocates but also to the entire public health community. He has been a leader in the truest sense of the word. We are proud to say that we had the opportunity to work closely with him over many years. Like the rest of America, we mourn his passing. We will miss him terribly.