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FDA authority over tobacco products draws ERLC support

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is urging adoption of legislation that would authorize the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products.

The ERLC is part of a coalition of about 50 public health and religious organizations supporting FDA authority over tobacco. Among the members are the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, Children’s Defense Fund, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, Islamic Society of North America, National Education Association, Presbyterian Church (USA) and Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The FDA has never regulated tobacco, but Congress may be on the verge of granting the agency such authority. The Senate approved an amendment to that effect in July, but a version of the same bill approved by the House of Representatives did not include the provision. After the Senate and House reconvene Sept. 7, a conference committee consisting of members of both chambers will negotiate a final report on the different versions to submit to Congress for passage.

ERLC President Richard Land encouraged House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R.-Texas, in a letter to work for approval of the amendment.

“We find it incredible that the FDA can ensure the safety of everyday items like macaroni and cheese, but has no authority over tobacco, a product that kills over 400,000 Americans every year,” Land wrote. “The faith community spends too much time burying mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who die because they became addicted to tobacco products when they were young.”

Tobacco companies “continue to spend billions of dollars to addict people to this deadly product,” he said. “We also know that the federal government can reduce the staggering addiction rate, particularly among vulnerable children, by fully regulating tobacco products.”

The Senate-approved measure would give the FDA regulatory authority over the manufacturing, marketing, labeling, distribution and sale of tobacco products. Under the measure, the agency would be empowered to restrict tobacco advertising that targets children. The FDA also would be able to mandate changes in tobacco products to make them less addictive or toxic.

The legislation would eliminate the federal quota and price support programs for tobacco. It also would establish a buyout program for tobacco growers that would be funded by tobacco companies.

The Senate passed the measure as an amendment to a jobs creation bill, H.R. 4520, in a 78-15 vote July 15. The House-approved version of the bill did not include the FDA authorization language but did contain a tobacco grower buyout, though it would be paid for by taxpayers.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R.-Ohio, is the chief sponsor of the Senate amendment, while Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., is the lead sponsor for the Democrats.