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House OKs bill to control tobacco

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved a bill last week to give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products.

House members voted 298-112 for the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which would authorize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to control the manufacture, promotion and sale of such products as cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

The legislation, which passed April 2, is expected to face stiffer opposition in the Senate. Both houses of Congress are in recess until April 20.

Proponents of the bill applauded the House’s action. Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, who has worked for the passage of such legislation for several years, said he was “delighted.”

“The nicotine addiction that accompanies tobacco use kills 400,000 Americans a year, and yet the tobacco industry is unregulated by the FDA,” Land told Baptist Press. “All of the substances you can take to cure your nicotine addiction are severely regulated by the FDA, but tobacco is not regulated. That is an absurd and lethal situation, and I hope the Senate will join the House in correcting it quickly.”

Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, said in a written statement, “There are few steps Congress can take that would make a bigger difference for America’s health than to pass this long-overdue legislation. It will end special protection the tobacco industry has enjoyed for too long and protect our children and the nation’s health instead.”

Among its provision, the House-approved bill, H.R. 1256, would:

— Limit the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, especially to children;

— Crack down on tobacco sales to minors;

— Ban candy-, fruit- and spice-flavored cigarettes;

— Require larger health warnings on tobacco packaging and in advertising.

Tobacco use not only causes about 400,000 deaths a year in the United States, but its annual health-care cost is an estimated $96 billion.

The measure actually received less support in this congressional session than a similar bill did in July, when passage came on a 326-102 vote. In this year’s roll call, 228 Democrats and 70 Republicans voted for the legislation. Only eight Democrats joined 104 GOP members in opposing it.

House approval of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., came after representatives defeated in a 284-142 vote an amendment by Rep. Steve Buyer, R.-Ind., that would have served as a substitute measure. Buyer’s legislation would have established the Tobacco Harm Reduction Center within the Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to reduce the number of tobacco users. Many supporters of the Waxman bill opposed the Buyer proposal, saying it would not provide the kind of oversight of the industry or protection for consumers and under-age children the Waxman bill would.

The ERLC’s Land joined with James Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, in a March 18 letter urging House members to support the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. They wrote on behalf of Faith United Against Tobacco, a coalition of 25 religious groups.

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed tobacco-related resolutions dating to 1932. A 1984 resolution urged churches and other SBC entities to encourage Southern Baptists not to use tobacco. It also called on Southern Baptist farmers not to raise tobacco but to grow another crop when feasible. In 2005, the SBC adopted a resolution urging an increased effort to reduce smoking by teenagers.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.