By L.A. Williams, CAL Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
WASHINGTON – Faith leaders from across North Carolina are making a passionate appeal to Sen. Richard Burr to end his opposition to life-saving legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration authority over the manufacture and marketing of tobacco products.
“There is overwhelming support for this legislation across all political, demographic and geographic lines,” ministers stated in a Sept. 16 letter that, from its 30-plus signatures, shows the support also crosses denominational lines.
Working closely with Faith United Against Tobacco, the Christian Action League of North Carolina helped coordinate the effort to show Burr that his threatened filibuster of HR 1108 – the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – is misguided at best and would put the special interest of tobacco ahead of the health of U.S. residents and the protection of America’s children.
“Big Tobacco produces a host of products killing more than 400,000 citizens each year and racking up nearly $100 billion in health care costs. And though there are warning labels on cigarettes, every day another 1,000 children take up the habit of smoking,” the letter said, further reminding Burr that voters support putting tobacco under the FDA’s authority by more than a three-to-one margin.
The legislation, endorsed by some 700 national, state and local organizations, would use fees from tobacco companies to fund the FDA’s new role, which would range from enforcing stricter marketing requirements to requiring disclosure of the contents of tobacco products. The agency would be able to mandate the reduction or removal of harmful ingredients from tobacco products and could prevent marketers from using misleading labels like “light” or “low tar” to make their products seem less dangerous.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1108, (326 to 102) in late July, after which Burr had vowed to do all he could to slow its progress in the Senate. His objections center primarily on fears that the FDA would be overwhelmed with the added responsibility and that the legislation would “chill the development of new, perhaps reduced risk tobacco products,” by adding more costs and a growing regulatory burden.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, pointed out that the bill includes funding so that it won’t drain resources from current FDA programs.
“In terms of affecting tobacco companies and the development of new products, the only thing it would do is require that new products be reviewed and that any claim that a product is less risky be truthful and be backed up by science,” Duke said.
Ironically Burr had said he would support legislation that would curtail youth smoking, which is truly the heart of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
“Young sons and daughters deserve to enjoy their youth without being confronted with tobacco marketing tailored to their age,” said Jim Winkler, chairman of Faith United Against Tobacco and a member of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. He testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health last fall. ” … This legislation would … prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes; prevent tobacco sales to underage children; and limit advertising and promotion of tobacco products that lure children into a deadly habit.”
Winkler pointed out the further irony in that manufacturers of nicotine cessation products that help people quit smoking are already subject to FDA regulation, but the products that kill more than 1,200 Americans each day are not.
“What we are asking for is not overly burdensome; it would simply assure the protection of consumers, particularly our children,” Winkler testified.
Duke highlighted the FDA’s role as one of helping consumers weigh a product’s benefits against its risks.
“Tobacco is much more deadly and dangerous than many of the products the FDA already deals with, but that just increases the need for the agency to get involved to help consumers understand the risks,” he said. “It’s much the same as the way the FDA already requires labeling on other products that can kill when used in a manner that is excessive or inappropriate. Tobacco is simply a product that requires government involvement to help protect consumer well-being.”
Duke said he believes the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act has strong support in the Senate and would pass by a veto-proof margin as it did in the House if simply given the chance for an up-or-down vote. That’s why it’s so important that Senator Burr’s constituents encourage him not to bog the bill down with excessive debate.
“If they know that a member is going to filibuster a bill, that decreases the likelihood that Senate leadership will even take the bill up,” Duke said.
In addition to the letter from the faith community, the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, called on Burr to drop his objections via a newspaper editorial.
“At this critical juncture in history, America needs a senator in the Tar Heel state like John Quincy Adams – a man of courage, a man so principled that he does not consider himself, his political career or even the industry of his own beloved state above the greater good of the nation,” Creech wrote in an op-ed published by the Raleigh News and Observer.
Duke urged North Carolinians to call both Burr and Sen. Elizabeth Dole to express their support of HR 1108.
“When a statement from faith leaders is followed up by calls from constituents, that adds additional strength to the effort to get this bill passed,” Duke said. “That can have a tremendous impact.”
TAKE CHRISTIAN ACTION: Contact Sen. Burr’s office at (202) 224-3154 and ask that he not filibuster the FDA Tobacco Bill. You may also wish to contact Sen. Dole’s at (202) 224-6342 and ask her to support the measure. For more ways to contact them, see their respective Web sites at www.dole.senate.gov/public/ and www.burr.senate.gov/public/