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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Progress and Challenges: The State of Tobacco Use and Regulation in the U.S.”

 “We have convened this hearing to examine the state of tobacco use and regulation in the United States – both the extraordinary public health efforts that have driven down tobacco use and the enormous challenges that remain.

 “Our nation has made remarkable progress in the 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. In that time, the smoking rate has been cut by more than half – from 42 percent to 18 percent. And we’ve learned what works: from smoke-free workplaces to access to free cessation services, from meaningful tobacco taxes to robust regulation, from media campaigns like the wildly successful Tips From a Former Smoker to commonsense marketing restrictions. We know what works.

 “Yet despite all these efforts and successes, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death.  Let me repeat that remarkable fact:  tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death in the United States.  Right now, 16 million Americans are suffering from smoking-caused illness, and 5.6 million kids alive today will ultimately die from smoking.  Today, nearly 1 in 4 high school seniors smoke and, sadly, most young smokers become adult smokers. Of adult smokers, fully half die prematurely from tobacco-related disease.

“And the problem is not just cigarettes. Last fall, CDC reported that the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, among middle and high school students more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.

“It’s because of statistics like these that public health efforts to combat tobacco have been among my top priorities since I came to Washington. Responding to the hundreds of thousands who die every year due to tobacco use, in 1998 I introduced the first comprehensive, bipartisan bill to give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco – a goal that finally became a reality five years ago with passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  I look forward, today, to examining the implementation of that law, to date.

“More recently, in light of the fact that some 3,500 children try smoking for the first time each day, I authored provisions in the Affordable Care Act that ensure every American has access to tobacco cessation services without copays or deductibles.  I also authored provisions in that law creating the landmark Prevention and Public Health Fund, which has invested more than $300 million in community-based public health efforts to curb tobacco use.

“And just last month, confronted with the bleak prospect of a whole new generation becoming addicted to nicotine by way of e-cigarettes, I joined with 10 of my colleagues to release an investigative report revealing that manufacturers are devoting massive resources to the marketing of e-cigarettes, and their marketing strategies are expressly designed to appeal to kids.

“I urge everyone to read the full report – but let me share just one example of the many graphics it contains: an animated cartoon video game through which the players earn e-cigarette coupons to redeem on Facebook.

“Cartoons. Video games. Social media. Candy flavors. E-cigarette companies are pulling out the stops to target children, and it is absolutely shameful – a disgusting throwback to Big Tobacco’s playbook to promote traditional cigarettes to kids before commonsense restrictions were in place.

“Now, I know that some of my colleagues believe that e-cigarettes are a promising alternative to cigarettes – but I think we can all agree that these products do not belong in the hands of kids. So I look forward to hearing more today from FDA about their new proposal to regulate e-cigarettes and other tobacco products under the authority of the Family Smoking and Prevention Control Act. The e-cigarette phenomenon has created a regulatory black hole that has gone on too long already. Today’s hearing is Congress’ first examination of that proposal, which has extraordinary consequences for public health.

“We are pleased to have Dr. Tim McAfee of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and Mitch Zeller of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products here to talk about the ongoing public health challenge posed by tobacco use.  They also will report on the important community-based and regulatory work in which those agencies are engaged.”