FDA Should Regulate Tobacco

THE United States Food and Drug Administration, which regulates foods, cosmetics, and a wide variety of medical products, is responsible for the safety and effectiveness of about 25 percent of all consumer purchases worth some $570 billion. One product group, however, is conspicuously absent from the FDA's oversight list: tobacco. Currently, the tobacco industry has a virtual free rein in advertising, labeling, and selling cigarettes. Yet its products are deemed responsible for more than 430,000 deaths in America every year and for approximately $65 billion annually in health-related expenses and lost productivity.

We have no idea what chemical additives cigarettes contain, the dangers are not adequately outlined on labels, and advertisements contain claims such as ``low'' tar and nicotine and ``light,'' which imply that the product is somehow safer, although it is not. This lack of regulation makes easier the tobacco industry's task of recruiting new smokers. Through ads clearly aimed at children - such as the Joe Camel cartoons - and ads that make smokers appear sexually attractive, sophisticated, and healthy, the industry is able to lure new smokers to replace many of the 2 million smokers who quit each year or die from illnesses attributed to smoking.

The federal government has a responsibility to regulate tobacco. That is why we have introduced the Fairness in Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation Act of 1993, which would give the FDA the full authority to regulate the manufacture, sale, labeling, advertising, and promotion of tobacco products, without banning the product.

The concept has broad public support. In a recent Gallup survey, 68 percent of the respondents say they believe that the FDA should regulate tobacco products; 76 percent favor restrictions on advertising that appeals to children; and 53 percent believe that tobacco ads should be banned. Even a majority of people from the largest tobacco growing states favors these restrictions.

To protect children from tobacco products, the bill would establish a federal minimum age, 18, for purchasing tobacco products. Although most states have laws that require a consumer to be 18 or older, they are rarely enforced. Our bill would ban free cigarette samples and discount coupons, two methods used to entice children.

The bill also would require tobacco manufacturers to include additional health warnings on cigarette packages and to either back up the health claims they make in selling low tar and nicotine cigarettes or to stop making such claims. It also would require manufacturers to ensure that all chemical additives in cigarettes are safe and fully disclosed.

Finally, we would require that advertising and promotion be regulated in a manner consistent with the way other legal drugs are regulated. For example, the FDA is responsible for ensuring that prescription-drug advertising does not promote the use and abuse of the product. Under our bill, this also would apply to tobacco products, allowing the FDA to prohibit seductive ads while keeping the product legal. The bill also prohibits tobacco companies from sponsoring sports, cultural, or other public events. The industry would be responsible for covering the costs associated with FDA regulation of its product.

As we look toward a national health-care plan, we hope our bill will be considered. It would discourage tobacco consumption by both children and adults and lead to fewer tobacco-related deaths.

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