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Leading Health Organizations Pressure Congress to Enforce Ban on Tobacco Sales to Children -- New Ad Campaign, Lobbying Efforts Challenge Congress to Protect Kids

June 17, 1997

Washington, DC - As Members of Congress prepare to cast their first vote on funding for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tobacco rule, the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS and representatives of leading health organizations today converged on Capitol Hill to urge Members of Congress to stand with America’s kids in the fight over tobacco. The funding will support a photo identification enforcement provision of the Rule that went into effect in February and is aimed at restricting tobacco sales to minors. Health representatives, joined by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), held a press conference at 12:30 p.m. as part of the day-long Capitol Hill lobbying effort to support the funding. A new advertising campaign targeted at key Members of Congress was also unveiled. At issue is whether Congress will decide to appropriate $34 million for the first phase of the FDA tobacco Rule. The funds primarily will go to states to enforce the identification check provision of the FDA Rule, which has received strong support from state and local officials because it will give them the resources they need to stop the illegal sale of tobacco to minors. Already in effect around the nation, this provision requires retailers to check the photo identification of anyone trying to purchase cigarettes who appears younger than 27 years of age. According to a CAMPAIGN poll taken this weekend, nearly all Americans (92%) agree that young people should be required to show photo identification to buy tobacco products. 'While there is no single answer to preventing kids from starting to smoke,' Dudley Hafner, American Heart Association executive vice president, said at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, 'we can reduce tobacco use among our children simply by enforcing the existing law that says minors cannot buy cigarettes.' 'Studies across the nation have proven the very sensible premise that fewer kids will start smoking if they can’t easily get their hands on tobacco. Unfortunately, states do not have the resources to enforce youth access laws, and without the help of Congress, kids will keep on buying and keep on smoking,' said George Dessart, chairman, American Cancer Society. Cigarette sales to minors are already illegal in all 50 states, yet surveys show that kids are able to buy them 67 percent of the time, on average, and as much a 87 percent of the time in some areas. 'Each year, the tobacco industry makes a staggering $200 million in profits from sales to minors. Voting in favor of the FDA appropriation will send a strong message to the public that Members of Congress want to protect our nation’s kids, not the tobacco industry,' said Bill Novelli, CAMPAIGN president. The CAMPAIGN today also launched a print advertising campaign in the districts of key Members of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee. The ads urge Members to support the FDA appropriation. Representatives from leading health groups, Dessart of the American Cancer Society and Hafner of the American Heart Association, joined Novelli and 15-year-old Las Cruces, New Mexico resident Chris Nava, the West Regional Youth Advocate of the Year, to walk the halls of Congress and urge Members to stand with America’s kids in the fight to protect them from tobacco. Nava lobbied Las Cruces Congressman Joe Skeen (R-NM), a Member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. 'Enforcement of underage tobacco is a problem in my home state of New Mexico,' Nava said. 'I personally conducted over 60 compliance checks in my community, and too often, merchants were just letting kids walk in and buy a product that will eventually kill them. By voting for the funding, Congress can finally put an end to this deadly problem and save kids’ lives,' he added. Representatives of leading health groups also met with Representatives Vic Fazio (D-CA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Tom Latham (R-IA), Jose Serrano (D-NY) and James Walsh (R-NY). The CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS is the largest initiative ever undertaken to decrease youth tobacco use in the United States. Its mandate is to focus the nation’s attention and action on keeping tobacco marketing from seducing children, and making tobacco less accessible to kids.