It’s time to regulate tobacco

In New Hampshire, nearly 1,900 children a year – approximately 37 per day – become regular smokers. In our state alone, we spend $564 million on health-care costs directly caused by smoking. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in New Hampshire, claiming approximately 1,800 lives in the Granite State every year.

These are not just statistics. They are our moms and dads, our brothers and sisters, our grandmas and grandpas, our friends and the people we work with. The best way to reduce the 1,200 tobacco-related deaths in the United States each day is to prevent kids from ever starting to smoke. Nationally, 90 percent of all smokers start at or before the age of 18. Big tobacco companies know that their future depends on their ability to recruit new, young smokers.

According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, there are four important measures that, when taken together, reduce the negative consequences of tobacco use. Fortunately, in New Hampshire, state legislators have made progress on three of these goals. 

In June, state legislators overwhelmingly passed a law that made New Hampshire the final New England state to require bars and restaurants to be smoke-free, protecting workers and patrons alike. We followed that momentous bill with a 28-cent increase in the state’s tobacco tax, which also deters youth smoking. And, finally, we approved funding for a state comprehensive cancer plan that includes resources for tobacco prevention and cessation.

However, there is a fourth measure that lies in the hands of our members of Congress – regulating the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products. Unbelievably, despite being the most deadly product sold in America, tobacco products are exempt from basic health regulations that apply to other products we consume, such as food and drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates a box of macaroni and cheese and a tube of lipstick, but not a pack of cigarettes.

The tobacco companies continue to take advantage of the lack of regulation to market their deadly and addictive products to our children, deceive consumers about the harm their products cause, make changes to their products without disclosing them (such as secretly increasing nicotine levels in cigarette smoke, as recent studies have shown), and resist any meaningful change to make their products less harmful. 

Until Congress grants the FDA authority over tobacco products, the tobacco companies will continue to get away with their harmful practices that addict children and make it difficult for smokers to quit.

Legislation pending in Congress – the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – would provide the FDA with authority over tobacco, including the authority to crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids. The bill would help protect our children and decrease teen smoking rates by banning flavored cigarettes, and requiring larger, more graphic health warning labels on cigarette packages. 

The FDA legislation has strong, bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. Fifty-four Senators have already signed on to co-sponsor this bill, and in August, Sen. Judd Gregg voted in favor of the bill in the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. We call on Sen. John Sununu to join his colleagues in support of this bipartisan legislation.

The tobacco industry’s attempts to lure children must be curbed, and this legislation is a step in the right direction.

Terie Norelli is speaker of the New Hampshire House, and Sylvia Larsen is president of the New Hampshire Senate.

Categories: Opinion