Marian Benjamin

There is big legislation on the Hill right now—legislation that RTs can and should support. This is a bill that will allow the FDA to regulate the tobacco industry and perhaps prevent the initiation of cigarette smoking among adolescents.

Cigarette smoking in this population declined dramatically during 1997-2002, but then the decline abruptly slowed. Possible reasons for this may be that statewide Tobacco Prevention and Control Program (TCP) expenditures declined by more than one-fourth in 2002-2006—from a high of $749.7 million in 2002. In particular, funding for countermarketing media campaigns shown to prevent youth-smoking initiation declined substantially after 2002. At the same time, tobacco industry spending on marketing rose from $6.9 billion to $15.4 billion between 1998 and 2003 (approximately 24 times higher than TCP expenditures). As well, since 1998, tobacco companies appear to have refocused their marketing resources on young adults through the use of promotional activities and related advertising, such as at clubs, concerts, and festivals attended by young people.

Help might be on the way. Bills have been introduced in both the House (HR1108) and the Senate (S625) that would give the FDA the right to regulate the production, content, labeling, marketing, and sales of tobacco products. Regarding content, the tobacco companies would have to report nicotine levels to assure that the levels are not higher than those in the natural product. The legislation also would ban advertising in magazines that might be read predominantly by kids and would ban health claims—even implied—such as “low tar” and “all natural,” which might lead consumers to think they are a healthier alternative, when in fact it is absolutely not true.

This legislation does not give the FDA the authority to ban tobacco, but it does give it the authority to ban certain cigarettes, such as candy flavored.

The House subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the full Energy and Commerce Committee have reviewed and approved the bill, which is now waiting for full-house action—maybe within the next couple of weeks. Parallel legislation has been considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Right now, according to a spokesperson from the American Thoracic Society (ATS)—which has been lobbying mightily to get this legislation passed—it is not a matter of substance that is holding up the bill, but rather it is jockeying for “floor time.” This legislation is vying with supplements for Iraq, yearly appropriations, some Medicare things, and the pending elections, he says, adding that a number of major pieces of legislation need to move through the House and Senate before the end of this session of Congress.

There are 56 cosponsors in the Senate—enough votes to pass the bill, but perhaps not enough to get cloture; the House has 227 cosponsors. Both bills have the majority of votes, so they would pass in a straight up and down vote, but in the Senate, 60 votes are needed to prevent filibuster.

Here’s where you come in. You can show your support of this legislation by writing to your legislators. ATS has made it easy for you: Just go to the ATS Web site There you will find a tool that will help you find contact information for your legislators and even a precomposed letter you can use or revise.

Let’s make sure this important legislation passes.

Marian Benjamin
[email protected]