obacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in America. Every year, smoking and other tobacco use kill more than 400,000 Americans and cost the nation more than $96 billion in health care bills. Every day, another 1,200 lives are lost and more than 1,000 kids become new regular smokers.
Shouldn’t a product that causes so much death and disease be subject to tough regulation to protect consumers? Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Today, tobacco products are among the least regulated. They’re exempt from basic health protections that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) applies to other consumer products, such as food, drugs, cosmetics and even dog food. The FDA can regulate a box of macaroni and cheese, but not a pack of cigarettes.
The tobacco companies take advantage of this lack of regulation to do many harmful things. They market their deadly products in ways that attract children, deceive consumers about the harm their products cause and resist changes that could make their products less harmful.
Congress can end this special protection for Big Tobacco by passing legislation to give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. The public health community strongly supports identical, bipartisan bills that have been introduced in Congress to give the FDA this authority:
- S. 625 sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John Cornyn (R-TX).
- H.R. 1108 sponsored by Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Tom Davis (R-VA).
These bills would grant the FDA the 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 mislead consumers into believing that certain cigarettes are safer than others.
In 2004, Congress came closer than ever to enacting this legislation into law when the Senate twice approved it by overwhelming margins. This year, Congress should finish the job and finally enact this legislation to protect kids and save lives.