By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
RALEIGH — “This is our moment, the great question is: will we seize upon it?” That’s how the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, described the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, legislation he called the “greatest opportunity to reduce the emotional and physical toll of tobacco related death ever afforded this country.”
Creech was joined by leaders of the faith and health communities at a Jan. 15 press conference hosted by the Christian Action League. At the press conference, speakers noted the legislation passed last year by a veto-proof margin and would have been taken up by the Senate had it not been for a threat to filibuster by North Carolina’s Senator Richard Burr. Each of the four faith leaders who spoke implored Burr to drop his threat of a promised filibuster when the legislation returns for the 111th Congress. They challenged Burr to allow tobacco products at least the same amount of scrutiny as breakfast cereal and pet food.
The bill would give the Food and Drug Administration authority over the marketing of tobacco products, placing limits on advertising and requiring companies to reveal to the public exactly what is in the products they’re using and potentially forcing those companies to remove harmful ingredients. Read the rest of this entry »
- Listen to Audio of Press Conference by clicking here.
- Read Executive Director’s Statement at Press Conference by clicking here.
- Related Stories: Butt Out of Tobacco Biz Pastors Tell Burr
- North Carolina’s Senator Richard Burr Threatens Filibuster of FDA Tobacco Bill (2008)
- More than 30 North Carolina Faith Leaders Ask Sen. Burr not to Filibuster FDA Tobacco Bill (2008)
- Read Rev. Creech’s 2008 News and Observer Op-Ed: Putting the Public Good Over Politics
- Read the letter sent by faith leaders to Burr last year, click here.
Duke University Medical Center cardiologist Douglas Schocken said, “The FDA would be able to ban candy-flavored cigarettes, and who are those aimed at? They are aimed at children,” he said. “…It would be so important to ban those.”
“FDA regulation could restrict false claims and false statements, in particular we see ‘reduced risk’ products yet where is the scientific evidence that there is any risk reduction? Let’s see the facts and let the facts speak for themselves,” he added, speaking as a physician and on behalf of the American Heart Association.
He said FDA oversight would prevent tobacco marketers from using misleading labels like “low-tar,” “light” and “mild” since there is in fact “no such thing as a healthy tobacco product.”
Answering Sen. Burr’s reported contentions that new responsibilities would overburden the FDA, Schocken said he knows that the FDA is an “extremely busy organization and that its workload is very high,” but nonetheless “Congress should not ignore this issue. We know that tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in this country.”
To further address concerns about overworking the FDA, Amy Barkley with Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, reminded those at the press conference that the bill would create a separate center for tobacco product regulation within the FDA, leaving existing functions undisturbed.
Durham pastor Rev. Brian Wingo further challenged Burr, calling his threatened filibuster and purported plan to delay the legislation long enough to introduce a much weaker bill a “thinly veiled act of protectionism for the strong tobacco lobby.”
“And to what gain? North Carolina has reached an important crossroads in our state’s history. No longer is North Carolina’s economy a tobacco driven economy,” said the Rev. Wingo, chair of the Board of Church and Society for the N.C. Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Curtis Norris and the Rev. Creech, both grandsons of tobacco farmers, acknowledged the history of the industry in the Southeast and their deep respect for Sen. Burr, but challenged lawmakers to put the health of Americans before other considerations.
Norris, representing the Missionary Methodist Churches of North Carolina, used scripture from Mark, Corinthians and Thessalonians as a biblical basis for his church’s stand against tobacco use but challenged lawmakers, including newly elected Senator Kay Hagan, on an even more basic level.
“This is a simplistic issue – place public health above politics,” Norris said. “If the Kraft Company must place nutritional facts and list ingredients on a box of macaroni and cheese, then why in the world do we not expect the same on a product that is harmful to our health and even responsible for addiction and death?”
The Rev. David C. Hansley, executive director of Home Missions and Evangelism for the Original Free Will Baptist Church, made a similar comparison regarding the honey nut cereal he eats for breakfast and reminded lawmakers of the Biblical admonition in James 4:17: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
As the speakers addressed questions from the media, Rev. Creech highlighted the irony that smoking cessation products are under FDA scrutiny while tobacco remains unregulated.
“Virtually all of the things we have to do medically to treat the people influenced by this product are all regulated; yet the product is not,” added Dr. Schocken. “That’s not right.”
The press conference was the latest in a number of efforts by the faith community to persuade Senator Burr to end his threat of filibuster.
“There is overwhelming support of this legislation across all political, demographic and geographic lines,” Tar Heel ministers stated in a Sept. 16, 2008, letter to Burr that, from its 30-plus signatures, shows the support also crosses denominational lines. The legislation has been endorsed by some 700 national, state and local organizations.
“This concern reaches far beyond the boundaries of religious ethics and politics; it reaches far beyond the boundaries and divides of left- and right-wing organizations,” said the Rev. Wingo. “This concern reaches directly into the homes, hearts and lungs of America’s families.”
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Want to help?
To encourage Senator Burr to support the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, you may phone his office at (202) 224-3154 or log on to the Web site at www.burr.senate.gov. Sen. Kay Hagan may be reached at www.hagan.senate.gov or via phone at 202-224-6342.