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ERLC urges stronger tobacco regulation

WASHINGTON (BP)–Stressing concern for the health of American families, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Sept. 8 appealed to the U.S. Senate to pass key tobacco legislation.

“This year approximately 400,000 Americans will die from tobacco-related diseases,” said ERLC president Richard Land in a letter to six senators. “Studies show that children are three times more likely than adults to be influenced by tobacco marketing and children in America are becoming addicted to tobacco at the alarming rate of 1,000 per day.”

The ERLC and members of Faith United Against Tobacco, a coalition of religious groups that promotes increased government regulation of tobacco products, believe passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act will prevent thousands of Americans from succumbing to illness and death caused by tobacco addiction.

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a companion bill July 30 to authorize the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the production, marketing and sale of tobacco products, Land said. He hopes the Senate will pass the legislation by a strong majority.

The legislation also will give the FDA authority to “regulate deadly and addictive ingredients, require larger and more informative health warnings, prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes, prevent tobacco sales to underage children and limit advertising and promotion of tobacco products,” Land said.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, says Senate passage of the legislation will enable the FDA to better hold companies accountable for products put in tobacco.

“Giving the FDA authority, we can at least have some assurance that companies will be held accountable for the products they place in tobacco,” Duke said. “That would be better than what is currently happening.”

Duke is not the only advocate for the removal of harmful ingredients in tobacco. Deborah Patterson, executive director of International Parish Nurse Resource Center, also favors the legislation. She believes tobacco companies should be required to list all the contents in tobacco products on their packaging labels.

“Most people are in favor of knowing what is in the products,” Patterson said. “Kids should have access to information in the products just like the producers do. The tobacco industry will take up any argument they can, but 80 percent of people in our country want to protect their children.”

Land addressed Sens. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.), Ben Nelson (D.-Nebr.), Mark Pryor (D.-Ark.), Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.), John Warner (R.-Va.) and James Webb (D.-Va.) in the letter, urging them to move the Senate so the bill can be passed before Congress ends its session this year.

The Southern Baptist Convention has sought to change national tobacco policy since the 1930s.

“Given the scope of the lingering tobacco problems in America, I ask you to support providing the FDA with regulatory authority over tobacco,” Land said in his letter. “The time for action on this legislation is past due.”
Elizabeth Wood is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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