Statement On the Passage of S. 982 The “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act”

I am pleased the Senate is moving once again to pass legislation to regulate tobacco products in the United States.  Senator Kennedy’s lifetime efforts to improve the public’s health are exemplified in his fight to pass the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.” Despite many setbacks, Senator Kennedy has worked tirelessly to pass this legislation and I am proud to join him again as a cosponsor of this bill. This legislation is long overdue and I look forward to it being signed into law.

 The health risks associated with smoking are undisputed and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives every year.  Tobacco products will kill one out of three long-term smokers, leading to over 400,000 deaths per year. The Surgeon General has determined that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, and other serious illnesses.  Deaths from tobacco products exceed deaths from HIV/AIDS, illegal drug use, alcohol use, car accidents, suicides, and murders combined. 

 Despite the dangers of smoking, we have seen that children have the greatest risk of becoming addicted to tobacco.  Each day more than 3,500 children will try a cigarette for the first time and 1000 of those kids will become regular smokers.  Among adult smokers, 90 percent started smoking as children and teens under the age of 18.  In my home state of Vermont, more than 18 percent of high school students smoke.  According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 12,000 children in Vermont will ultimately die from smoking if smoking rates remain unchanged. 

 These statistics are horrifying but perhaps not surprising given the historic lack of regulation of the tobacco industry.  At a congressional hearing as late as 1994, tobacco industry chairmen and CEOs testified that nicotine is not addictive, even though decades of evidence showed otherwise.  In fact, the tobacco industry has increased the nicotine levels in cigarettes by more than 11 percent from 1998 to 2005, increasing the risk of cigarette addiction.  If enhanced nicotine levels in cigarettes is not enough to convince us that the tobacco industry should be regulated, a new study released this spring showed that changes the tobacco industry has made to cigarette design over the years has increased the risk of lung cancer for those who smoke. 

 In addition to making their products more potent and addictive, study after study has shown how the tobacco industry continues to successfully target advertising to minors to get them hooked for life on smoking.  Each year, the tobacco industry spends over $13 billion in advertising – that is $36 million every day.  Studies have showed that children are three times more sensitive to tobacco advertising than adults and are more likely to be influenced to start smoking by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure. 

 This bill addresses these shameful business practices by giving the United States Food and Drug Administration the authority for the first time to regulate the sale, distribution, and advertising of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.  It will require manufacturers to better disclose the contents and consequences of their products in new, stronger warning labels on packages.  It will also prohibit cigarette companies from labeling their brands as reduced risk “lite” or “ultra-lite” unless the government can certify that those claims are true.   The very purpose of the Food and Drug Administration is to protect the interests and safety of consumers and this legislation will finally allow the FDA to hold the tobacco industry accountable for their products. 

 A recent ruling by the District of Columbia Circuit Court highlights the need for serious regulation of the tobacco industry.  The D.C. Appeals Court confirmed the District Court’s ruling, which found that the tobacco industry had for decades engaged in deceptive marketing tactics to conceal the negative health impacts of smoking.  The ruling confirmed that tobacco companies had not changed the way their products were marketed in response to the Master Settlement Agreement, and instead the industry has more than doubled spending on marketing campaigns that included spurious claims of “healthier” cigarettes that are “light” or “low-tar.”  The ruling did not, however, require that the tobacco industry surrender profits that resulted in the misleading advertising or stop the industry from adding flavors to make products more appealing to kids or to manipulate nicotine levels to increase addictiveness and harm.  The tobacco industry must be regulated to create transparency in the contents of tobacco products and to help stop hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths each year.

 For far too long, the tobacco industry has been given free rein to mislead the public and encourage children and teens to take up smoking.  The passage of this bill will give the FDA the authority it needs to effectively protect children from smoking and improve consumer awareness of tobacco industry practices, which will in turn save American lives.  I urge all Senators to support passage of the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.” 

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