WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress should act to bring tobacco products under the regulation of the federal government and thereby protect the health of Americans, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and other religious leaders said April 5.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference, Land and the others urged Congress to approve legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration authority to control the manufacture, promotion and sale of such products as cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
“Few steps could have a greater impact on our health, because tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death” in the United States, said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Yet tobacco products are virtually unregulated. … The FDA legislation would finally end the special protection enjoyed by the tobacco industry and protect our children and the nation’s health instead.”
Land and other speakers cited numerous statistics to demonstrate the harmful effects of tobacco in this country:
— 1,200 people a day and 438,000 a year die from cigarette smoking or secondhand smoke.
— The costs in healthcare and lost productivity total more than $180 billion a year.
— 4,000 children under 18 try smoking for the first time daily.
— 90 percent of adult smokers start the practice by age 18.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act would empower the FDA to regulate the content of tobacco products, prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes, crack down on tobacco sales to underage children and limit advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
The religious leaders are not asking for a ban on tobacco products or that they be treated differently than other items, Land said. While the FDA regulates food, medicine, cosmetics and pet food, it is unable to control cigarettes and other tobacco products, he said.
“We’re simply asking that tobacco products be subject to the same common-sense consumer protections as other products,” Land said. “The tobacco companies can put whatever they want in cigarettes without disclosing anything.
“Nobody wants too much government regulation,” he said, “but what we are asking for is not overly burdensome. It would simply level the playing field between tobacco and other products. There is consensus in the faith community, both conservative and liberal, that this product must be regulated.”
Religious leaders “who may disagree on other issues” are in agreement on FDA regulation of tobacco products, said Conrad Braaten, senior pastor of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. The news conference was on the front steps of the Lutheran church’s building.
Other speakers at the news conference included representatives of the United Methodist Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore.
Though the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives in March 2005, no action has been taken in either chamber. The Senate approved similar legislation in 2004, but the House failed to vote on it.
The proposal, S. 666 in the Senate and H.R. 1376 in the House, has 22 Senate cosponsors and 84 House cosponsors. Sen. Mike DeWine, R.-Ohio, and Rep. Tom Davis, R.-Va., are the chief sponsors of the measure.
The Capitol Hill news conference was part of an annual, nationwide effort sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.