WASHINGTON--Major public health groups have agreed to a united stand on the elements they want to see included in any comprehensive tobacco legislation passed by Congress.
They essentially endorsed the recommendations contained in the final report issued last July by the Advisory Committee on Tobacco Policy and Public Health, chaired by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD, and former FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler, MD. [As ONI went to press, the tobacco companies announced they will not participate in the proposed Senate tobacco bill.]
The agreement was outlined in a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss). It was signed by Dr. Koop, Dr. Kessler, and representatives of 20 health organizations.
"Our first priority is to ensure the passage of comprehensive tobacco control legislation in this session of Congress," the letter said. "Congress has the opportunity to make fundamental changes in tobacco policy based solely and exclusively on what is good for the publics health without making unnecessary concessions to the tobacco industry. Only a comprehensive approach that combines the best of what we know today with a process for making change as we learn more tomorrow should be enacted."
The key points of agreement include:
- Reaffirm the Food and Drug Administrations full authority to regulate all areas of nicotine and all other constituents and ingredients of tobacco.
- Protect children and youths from influences that create a demand for tobacco and acceptance of its use, and prevent them from obtaining tobacco.
To this end, the groups called for (1) a well-funded antismoking education campaign that would be outside the influence of the tobacco industry; (2) a significant increase in the price of cigarettes and other tobacco products, with a starting hike of at least $1.50 a pack; (3) a ban on advertising and promotions aimed at children and teens; and (4) substantial penalties for underage use in the form of assessments against companies whose brands fail to show reductions in usage by youths.
- Provide adequate funds for scientifically established cessation programs to help nicotine-dependent adults and youths to quit smoking or stop using spit tobacco.
- Establish, refine, and expand environmental tobacco smoke laws and regulations.
- Protect and administer the justice system so that evidence of tobacco industry misdeeds become public. "We oppose granting the tobacco industry immunity against liability for past, present, or future misdeeds," the letter said. "Congress should focus its efforts on public health, not on the concessions the tobacco industry seeks."
- Shield state and local governments from federal preemption clauses that weaken, incapacitate, or make onerous their ability to develop novel public health approaches and pursue public health standards that are higher than federal standards.
- Adequately compensate tobacco farmers as sales of their domestic product to manufacturers decline.
- Implement strong international trade policies that use the same public health standards applied to tobacco products that are marketed and sold in the United States. "US trade policies should reflect US domestic policy," the group stated in its letter, urging Congress to take a leadership role in this area.
"If public-health-based tobacco control measures are enacted, and the threat of litigation is not removed in the process, this nation will finally experience improvement in the publics health," the groups stated.