Americans support FDA regulation of tobacco. They say so in poll after poll. The U.S. House also supports it. It has overwhelmingly passed legislation granting that authority.
Yet pocketbook-based opposition by tobacco-state lawmakers such as North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr has dimmed the odds that the measure will pass this fall. Shame on the Senate if it delays an opportunity to approve solid legislation that can save lives – especially young lives. North Carolina's senators should be leading the effort to pass this bill, not throwing up roadblocks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly 450,000 Americans die each year from tobacco-related diseases, including cancer, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. In North Carolina, tobacco use kills or contributes to the death of some 40,000 people each year. Decades of unwavering scientific evidence show that tobacco is among the most deadly products widely consumed by humans.
Yet tobacco products are exempt from basic health regulations that apply to other consumer products such as food, drugs and lipstick. That makes no sense, and the bill passed by the House would change that. Specifically, it would give the FDA power to require the removal or reduction of harmful ingredients in cigarettes. It would also:
Crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids.
Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, changes to them and research about their health effects.
Prohibit terms such as “light”, “mild” and “low-tar” that mislead consumers into believing that certain cigarettes are safer.
Ban candy-flavored cigarettes.
There's nothing burdensome about such measures. That's the same scrutiny required of other products. In this case there's also evidence tobacco companies have taken advantage of a lack of regulation to market to kids and deceive consumers about a deadly product. The only way to put a stop to that is with FDA regulation.
The House vote was emphatic: 326 for, 102 opposed. The numbers suggest that legislation would also pass the U.S. Senate, yet opposition by tobacco-state senators, election year inertia and the absence of a strong proponent, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., dim those odds.
North Carolina continues to produce the most flue-cured tobacco – the most widely-used leaf in cigarettes – of any state. Sen. Dole and Sen. Burr point to tobacco's role in the state's economy. Yet long-term costs from smoking-related illnesses should be taken into account. They are staggering, estimated by CDC numbers to be as high as $ 6 billion each year in N.C.
Besides, the question here is not the state's pocketbook, but the health of its citizens. It's time the tobacco industry got the scrutiny it deserves.