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Congress Has Historic Opportunity to Protect Children and Save Lives By Granting FDA Authority Over Tobacco Products

Statement of American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 15, 2007

Washington, DC — Our public health organizations strongly support the bipartisan legislation introduced today in Congress to provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with effective authority to regulate tobacco products. This legislation presents Congress with a truly historic opportunity to protect our children from tobacco addiction and save lives by addressing the nation's number one preventable cause of death. We applaud U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Tom Davis (R-VA) for their leadership in producing strong bills that would end special protection for the tobacco industry and protect our children and the nation's health instead.

We urge both the Senate and the House to quickly enact this long-overdue legislation into law and to reject all efforts to weaken it. Every day Congress fails to act, another 1,200 Americans die from tobacco use and more than 1,000 children become new regular smokers. Each year in the United States, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people and costs the nation more than $96 billion in health care bills. The legislation introduced today would save countless lives and improve health for generations to come by reducing tobacco use and its devastating consequences, which include cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diseases that affect virtually every organ in the human body.

Unbelievably, despite all the harm they cause, tobacco products are exempt from basic health and safety regulations that apply to other products, such as food, drugs, cosmetics and even dog food. The tobacco companies continue to take advantage of this lack of regulation to market their deadly and addictive products to our children, deceive consumers about the harm their products cause, make changes to their products without disclosing them (such as secretly increasing nicotine levels in cigarette smoke, as recent studies have shown), and resist any meaningful change to make their products less harmful. Until Congress grants the FDA authority over tobacco products, the tobacco companies will continue to get away with their harmful practices that addict children and make it difficult for smokers to quit.

The proposed legislation would grant the FDA the authority and resources to effectively regulate the manufacturing, marketing, labeling, distribution and sale of tobacco products. The FDA would have authority to:

  • Restrict tobacco advertising and promotions, especially to children.
  • Stop illegal sales of tobacco products to children.
  • Ban candy-flavored cigarettes, which clearly are starter products for young new smokers.
  • Require changes in tobacco products, such as the removal of harmful ingredients or the reduction of nicotine levels.
  • 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.
  • Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, changes to their products and research about the health effects of their products.
  • Require larger and more informative health warnings on tobacco products.
  • Prohibit terms such as 'light', 'mild' and 'low-tar' that have mislead consumers into believing that certain cigarettes are safer than others.

These are common-sense measures that should have been enacted into law long ago. In 2004, the U.S. Senate voted 78-15 to pass FDA tobacco legislation as an amendment to a corporate tax bill, but it was killed in the conference committee.

Despite the tobacco companies' claims of reform, recent events underscore that their harmful practices continue today and show why the FDA tobacco legislation is so critical:

  • On August 17, 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a final opinion in the U.S. government's landmark tobacco lawsuit that found the major tobacco companies have violated civil racketeering laws and defrauded the American people by lying for decades about the health risks of smoking and their marketing to children. Judge Kessler also found that the tobacco companies' wrongdoing, including their marketing to children, continues today: 'The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.' However, Judge Kessler felt constrained by law in the remedies she could order and put the responsibility on Congress to take additional action: 'In a democracy, it is the body elected by the people, namely Congress, that should step up to the plate and address national issues with such enormous economic, public health, commercial and social ramifications.'
  • Since Judge Kessler's ruling, two studies – one by the Massachusetts Department of Health and the other by the Harvard School of Public Health – have found that the tobacco companies have secretly and significantly increased the levels of nicotine in cigarette smoke since 1998. These findings indicate that as smoking rates decline, and more smokers try to quit, tobacco companies have sought to maintain addiction among smokers and to addict a new generation of replacement smokers. The tobacco companies can secretly increase nicotine levels because no federal agency has regulatory authority over what they put in cigarettes.
  • The tobacco companies have taken advantage of their unregulated status to introduce so-called 'reduced risk' cigarettes with claims like 'all of the taste…less of the toxins' and 'reduced carcinogens, premium taste.' However, no government agency currently has the authority to make sure these claims are scientifically proven and the products are marketed responsibly. These new products risk a repeat of the public health disaster caused by the marketing of 'light' and 'low-tar' cigarettes. Millions of smokers switched to these brands thinking they were safer or would help them quit only to find out decades later that neither is true and the tobacco companies knew this all along (as the National Cancer Institute concluded in a November 2001 report).
  • The major cigarettes companies have easily circumvented the minimal restrictions placed on their marketing by the 1998 state tobacco settlement and have since more than doubled their marketing to at least $15.1 billion a year – more than $41 million every day, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Much of this marketing continues to appeal to children. A study published in the December 2006 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that exposure to tobacco marketing and pro-tobacco depictions in movies, television and videos more than doubles the odds that children under 18 will become tobacco users.

If you have any questions or to schedule an interview, please contact Joel Spivak (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids) at 202-296-5469; Colleen Wilber (American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network) at 202-661-5772; Suzanne Ffolkes (American Heart Association) at 202-785-7929; or Paul Billings (American Lung Association) at 202-785-3355.