WASHINGTONA presidential commission has urged the enactment of a 17-cents-a-pack increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes to pay for programs to aid tobacco farmers and support smoking cessation and prevention programs. It also recommended that the FDA be given strong regulatory powers over the tobacco industry.
The panelthe President’s Commission on Improving Economic Opportunities in Communities Dependent on Tobacco Production While Protecting Public Healthwas established last year by former President Clinton. It had an equal number of tobacco growers and public health advocates among its 10 members, as well as several economic development experts.
Declaring that "tobacco farmers and their communities confront a bleak future," the commission called on the federal government to replace the current tobacco quota system with production permits available only to active growers. Unlike quotas, the permits would not be marketable assets, which would help ensure that the new system does not foster the same economic dependence on tobacco as the current one. The panel also urged compensation for quota owners and growers for the lost value of their quotas, and the creation of other economic assistance programs.
In the area of public health, the panel recommended that:
Congress should grant FDA the authority to regulate the manufacture, sale, marketing, distribution, and labeling of tobacco products. The FDA’s powers should be comparable to its authority over other products, but its authority should not extend to prohibiting the use of tobacco products by adults.
States should better fund comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Those states that meet the minimum funding recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should receive additional federal assistance.
Medicare and Medicaid should include smoking cessation programs in their basic coverage.
During the first 5 years of the federal tobacco tax increase, all of the additional funds raised through it should go for programs to benefit farmers and their communities, the commission said. During the second 5 years, the money should support state prevention and cessation programs and other tobacco-related public health efforts.