By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ground-breaking legislation that could help protect children and adults from what is arguably our nation’s most harmful habit passed the U.S. House late last month and is expected to be taken up in the Senate, where leaders of the health and faith communities will push for its passage.
The common-sense, bipartisan-supported Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (HR 1108) would give the Food and Drug Administration, whose mandate is to protect the public health, authority to regulate what statistics show is the most dangerous drug in the world.
“The Christian Action League has been in support of this legislation for a long time,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, the League’s executive director. “It has never made sense to us that the organization that can approve or reject the labeling on a box of cereal or halt the production of a new flavored cough medicine would have no say over how tobacco is marketed.”
The bill would give the FDA power to introduce strict new advertising and labeling rules. Despite its passage in the House by a veto-proof margin (326 to 102), its approval by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and at least 57 Senate sponsors, the bill may face an uphill climb if North Carolina’s Richard Burr delivers a promised filibuster.
According to USA Today, the Senator from Winston-Salem has said he will do whatever it takes to stop the bill, including bringing amendments to the floor and/or introducing an alternative bill. Burr cites concerns that adding the regulatory task to the FDA would sidetrack the agency from its mission of making sure food, prescription drugs and medical devices are safe. He said the added work would slow approval times for vital medications and that adding regulations would discourage tobacco companies from developing reduced risk products.
The truth about the legislation
In truth, the legislation would finance the FDA’s tobacco supervision completely through new fees paid by tobacco companies specifically designated for that purpose.
“The pending legislation is carefully crafted to ensure the FDA’s new tobacco-related responsibilities do not in any way impede or take resources from its current responsibilities,” said William Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Corr explains that the tobacco company user fees would create a separate center for tobacco product regulation within the FDA, leaving existing functions undisturbed.
As for the legislation having a chilling effect on tobacco companies’ creating new reduced-risk tobacco products, instead it would more likely encourage them to shift their resources currently devoted to enticing children to smoke to the development of those products.
“While the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel might be schemes of the past, the tobacco industry continues to find ways to target children through their advertising,” wrote Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who testified before Congress on the bill. “The tobacco industry has introduced cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products and so-called ‘little cigars’ in an array of candy, fruit and alcohol flavors that mask the harshness of the products and make them more appealing to children.”
It’s not likely a tobacco company that halted production of these kiddie lures and instead came out with a carcinogen-free pack of smokes would be ignored by FDA regulators.
So while they may strike a chord with industry related persons, Burr’s arguments have not swayed more than 680 public health, medical and faith groups, as well as other organizations, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The American Lung Association, American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have applauded the bill, and a May 2008 poll showed that even a majority of smokers support the measure.
Supporting the industry
Cigarette maker Philip Morris USA backs the bill, but Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds are staunchly opposed. According to the Congressional Quarterly MoneyLine, Reynolds’ political action committee gave $10,000 to Burr’s leadership committee, the Next Century Fund. Lorillard gave $5,000.
Burr is not alone in his defense of the tobacco industry. Sen. Elizabeth Dole said in a speech late last year that she opposes extending the FDA’s authority.
“Tobacco continues to be at risk for further regulation and taxation,” she said. “The FDA has authority to monitor food, drugs, and medical devices – and tobacco products do not, and should not, fall into any of those categories.”
Even Kay Hagan, the Democratic nominee, who is trying to unseat Sen. Elizabeth Dole recently noted she didn’t support the legislation because she believed it would overburden the FDA. When asked if she would support the measure should the agency be granted additional resources, she dodged the question saying the scenario was a hypothetical.
“It’s obvious that North Carolina’s Senate representation would protect the industry,” said Rev. Mark Creech. “But lawmakers who think tobacco is already regulated enough may want to consider use of the drug kills more than 400,000 Americans a year and racks up nearly $100 billion in health care costs. And despite health warnings, every day another 1,000 children take up the habit,” he added.
“Plainly, this product destroys the human body which in Corinthians is so justly described as the ‘temple of God,'” wrote Dr. Land. “For us in the faith community, these statistics are especially tragic because every day we must bury mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who die early from preventable deaths caused by tobacco addiction that, more often than not, began at a young age.”
Corr called the House vote “a giant step toward ending the special protection the tobacco industry has enjoyed for too long and at such great cost to the nation’s health.”
FDA would require changes
Although Burr argues that under the proposed legislation, existing tobacco will change very little, in fact the bill would grant the FDA broad authority to require changes in tobacco products, such as the reduction or removal of harmful ingredients and the reduction of nicotine to non-addictive levels. The bill automatically bans candy-flavored cigarettes; allows the FDA to ban the use of menthol in cigarettes; as well as prohibit the use of misleading terms like “low-tar,” “light” and “mild.”
As for the marketing of tobacco products, the new law requires that advertising in publications targeting teens and point-of-sale advertising be in black-and-white text only. Health warnings would be enlarged to cover 30 to 50 percent of the front and backs of tobacco packages and could be ordered to include graphic images of lung tumors, mouth growths or other tobacco-induced illnesses – quite a change from current teen-friendly packaging.
It would also force tobacco product manufacturers to reveal exactly what is in their products, which would make their motives more transparent.
Lawmakers should take a stand
“Knowing that first-time users will find smoking unpleasant, the tobacco industry carefully manipulates the product to make it less harsh by adding sugars and chemicals that numb the throat,” wrote Dr. Land describing the industry’s “dirty deeds.”
He went further to challenge lawmakers to take a stand.
“Congress has the means to curb the cycle of allurement and addiction, of disease and death, caused by tobacco. They owe it to the families of America to do just that, and to do it now,” he wrote.
The Senate is set to convene Sept. 8.
“Let us pray that our lawmakers do the right thing and that Sen. Burr reconsiders his threat to filibuster,” said the Rev. Creech.
“The FDA is the right agency to regulate tobacco products because it is the only agency with the combination of regulatory experience, scientific expertise and public health mandate,” said Corr.
Take Action: Contact the office of Senator Richard Burr and ask him to either support the FDA tobacco bill or at the least put an end to his threat to filibuster. You can call Senator Burr’s Washington office at (202) 224-3154. Or, you may reach his office at any of the following North Carolina locations.
- Asheville – (828) 350-2437
- Rocky Mount – (252) 977-9522
- Winston-Salem – (800) 685-8916
- Gastonia – (704) 833-0854
- Wilmington – (888) 848-1833
To express your concerns by sending an email click here
When sending your email, fill out all the fields and select the general topic, tobacco. Then you may want to draw from or use the following suggested email text:
Just a few weeks ago the House of Representatives passed a bill to give FDA authority over tobacco products by an overwhelming, veto-proof margin. Now the Senate needs to take action.
I was disappointed to learn that you, and other allies of the tobacco industry, are apparently standing in the way of progress by threatening to filibuster this life saving legislation. Given the terrible toll of tobacco in North Carolina each year – 13,800 kids start smoking and 11,900 adults lose their lives – you should support HR 1108, or at the very least put an end to your threat to filibuster the bill.
This bill is fully funded so it will not take away from FDA’s other important work. The bill also has widespread bipartisan support.
This is a health crisis. Please do the right thing and put the families and children of North Carolina first – don’t filibuster this bill and instead stand in support of it.