Today, the Senate begins the final steps toward passage of legislation that should have been enacted years ago – authority for the FDA to regulate tobacco products, the most lethal of all consumer products.
It has been a long and arduous path with many political obstacles. Fortunately, the legislative journey is nearing a successful conclusion. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a nearly identical bill last month. Once approved by this Committee, the FDA Tobacco bill will move quickly to the Senate floor, where it has the support of a strong bipartisan majority. President Obama is anxiously waiting to sign it into law.
The need to regulate tobacco products can no longer be ignored. Used as intended by the companies that manufacture and market them, cigarettes will kill one out of every three smokers. Yet, the federal agency most responsible for protecting the public health is currently powerless to deal with the enormous risks of tobacco use. Public health experts overwhelmingly believe that passage of S. 982 is the most important action Congress can take to protect children from this deadly addiction. Without strong Congressional action, smoking will continue at its current rate, and more than six million of today’s children will ultimately die from tobacco-induced disease. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in America. Nationally, cigarettes kill well over four hundred thousand people each year. That is more lives lost than from automobile accidents, alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, AIDS, murder, and suicide combined. Congress cannot continue to ignore a public health problem of this magnitude. And Congress will not ignore it. This legislation has broad bipartisan support. More than half the members of the Senate are cosponsoring it. They recognize that giving FDA authority over tobacco products is essential to effectively addressing the tobacco health crisis.
The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and eighty-six other national public health organizations speak with one voice on this issue. They are all supporting S. 982 because they know it will give FDA the tools it needs to reduce youth smoking and help addicted smokers quit.
A landmark report by the Institute of Medicine, released two years ago, strongly urged Congress to “confer upon the FDA broad regulatory authority over the manufacture, distribution, marketing and use of tobacco products.”
Opponents of this legislation argue that FDA should not be regulating such a dangerous product. I could not disagree more. It is precisely because tobacco products are so deadly that we must empower America’s premier public health protector – the FDA – to combat tobacco use. For decades the federal government has stayed on the sidelines and done next to nothing to deal with this enormous health problem. The tobacco industry has been allowed to mislead consumers, to make false health claims, to conceal the lethal contents of their products, to make their products even more addictive, and worst of all – to deliberately addict generations of children. The alternative to FDA regulation is more of the same. Allowing this abusive conduct by the tobacco industry to go unchecked would be terribly wrong.
Under this legislation, FDA will for the first time have the needed power and resources to take on this challenge. The cost will be funded entirely by a new user fee paid by the tobacco companies in proportion to their market share. Not a single dollar will be diverted from FDA’s existing responsibilities.
Giving FDA authority over tobacco products will not make the tragic toll of tobacco use disappear overnight. More than forty million people are hooked on this highly addictive product and many of them have been unable to quit despite repeated attempts. However, FDA action can play a major role in breaking the gruesome cycle that seduces millions of teenagers into a lifetime of addiction and premature death.