111th Congress Took Unprecedented Action to Reduce Tobacco Use, Save Lives and Cut Health Care Costs

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

Sep. 30 2010

Washington, D.C. — As the 111th Congress draws to a close, its members and leadership, along with President Obama, deserve great praise for standing up to special interests and taking truly historic action to reduce tobacco use, save lives and reduce health care costs for all Americans.

This Congress did more to protect kids from tobacco than any other in history, and these steps are likely to pay major dividends for years to come. Fewer kids will get addicted, more Americans will get the help they need to quit smoking and we will save billions in health care costs. These actions are critical to improving America’s health as tobacco use remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of death, killings more than 400,000 Americans and costing $96 billion in health expenditures each year.

The Congressional accomplishments include:

  • FDA regulation of tobacco products: After more than a decade of struggle, Congress finally gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products. President Obama signed the law on June 22, 2009, and launched a new era in which the deadliest consumer product sold is finally regulated to protect public health. Already the FDA has used its authority to ban candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes and crack down on other predatory marketing schemes directed at children. It has banned use of the deceptive terms “light” and “low tar” to describe cigarettes, and required larger warning labels on smokeless tobacco products, with large, graphic warnings soon to come on cigarette packs.
  • Tobacco tax increase: Congress enacted the largest-ever federal cigarette tax increase, a 62-cent per pack hike, as part of legislation improving children’s health by expanding coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Increasing cigarette taxes is a proven strategy to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among children. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent. The federal cigarette tax hike went into effect in April 2009, and several states also raised their cigarette taxes in 2009. As a result, cigarette sales declined by 8.3 percent in 2009, one of the largest declines in recent years.
  • Health care reform that makes prevention a priority: The new health care reform law expands private health insurance coverage for proven treatments that help smokers quit and requires state Medicaid programs to cover smoking-cessation treatment for pregnant women. Beginning in 2014, Medicaid programs will no longer be permitted to exclude tobacco-cessation drugs from their medication programs. Lawmakers also created a new Prevention and Public Health Fund to finance proven prevention, wellness and public health activities in communities across the nation. Tobacco prevention and cessation programs received $16.7 million from this fund in fiscal year 2010.
  • Increased funding for tobacco control efforts: At a time when many states were making severe cuts to tobacco prevention and cessation programs, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided critical support for these life-saving programs,. This law has provided $197 million for state and local health department programs dedicated to tobacco control.
  • Stopping illegal sales of tobacco products over the Internet: The Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act cracks down on the sale of tax-evading, low-cost cigarettes and smokeless products over the Internet and through the mail. Internet sales make it easier for kids to buy tobacco products, facilitate tax evasion and cost federal and state governments billions in lost revenues.

This Congress overcame years of political inertia to take important steps that will create a healthier America. Now it is critical that future Congresses build on these accomplishments by supporting effective implementation of these new laws and taking additional steps, including funding a national tobacco prevention and cessation campaign. Winning the fight against tobacco use will require a sustained effort from many Congresses.

 

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