Tobacco :: Take action to reduce the harms of tobacco, says US President’s Cancer Panel

A new report issued by the President’s Cancer Panel is a call to action on how to significantly reduce tobacco use and its devastating toll in the United States and around the world. The prestigious panel of national experts appointed by the President, including Dr. LaSalle Leffall of the Howard University College of Medicine, Lance Armstrong and Dr. Margaret Kripke of The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, has concluded that the main obstacle to progress has been the lack of political will to implement proven solutions.

The steps that must be taken couldn’t be clearer: Congress must pass legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) effective authority over tobacco products and significantly increase the federal cigarette tax, while states must redouble their efforts to increase tobacco taxes, fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs and enact smoke-free workplace laws.

One recommendation made by the Panel is particularly timely. The report states: “The Panel recommends foremost that the influence of the tobacco industry – particularly on America’s children – be weakened through strict Federal regulation of tobacco products sales and marketing.”

Legislation pending in Congress would grant the FDA authority to crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids; require that tobacco companies disclose the contents of tobacco products and reduce or remove harmful ingredients; stop tobacco companies from misleading the public about the health risks of their products; and require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco products. The legislation would – for the first time in 40 years – grant states the authority to regulate cigarette marketing. States and localities could impose bans or restrictions on the time, place and manner (but not content) of the advertising or promotion of cigarettes.

The FDA legislation has strong, bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, with a total of 196 sponsors in the House and 53 sponsors in the Senate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the legislation on August 1. Congress has debated FDA authority over tobacco for nearly a decade. It’s time to end the debate and take action that the President’s Cancer Panel report concludes is an essential component of eliminating the tobacco problem in the United States.

The report also calls for a significant increase in the federal cigarette tax. The current tax rate is 39 cents per pack. Congress has not enacted legislation increasing the federal cigarette tax since1997. Legislation to increase the federal cigarette tax has passed the House and Senate and is now in conference committee.

States also have much to do to meet the report’s recommendations:

The report calls on states to increase tobacco taxes. Twenty-nine states fall below the national average of $1.07 per pack and South Carolina, Missouri and Mississippi lag far behind at just 7 cents, 17 cents and 18 cents a pack respectively.

The report calls on every state to fund comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, only three states – Maine, Delaware and Colorado – meet that standard, while 28 states and DC spend less than half the CDC minimum and five states – Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and Tennessee – provide no significant state funding for tobacco prevention in the current fiscal year. It would take just seven percent of the nearly $22 billion in annual revenue the states collect from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes for every state to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at the CDC minimum levels.

While 22 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have now enacted smoke-free laws that cover restaurants and bars, the report rightly calls for every state to enact such protections for the right to breathe clean air.

The report also includes an important call for the United States to demonstrate leadership in the global fight against tobacco use by ratifying and implementing the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It is shameful that the United States is not one of the 148 nations that have ratified the treaty.

Other recommendations in the report include efforts to reduce youth exposure to smoking in movies, exclude tobacco and all tobacco products from international trade agreements, require that state-funded programs offer smoking cessation services and ensure that all state cancer control plans include a tobacco control component.

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