Tobacco Foes See ‘Tremendous Opportunities’ for Tobacco Control in 2009

By Susan Jones | January 13, 2009 | 10:15 AM EST

The American Lung Association sees an "unprecedented opportunity to change the direction of public health" by regulating tobacco products. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The American Lung Association says political leaders “have a duty to reduce death and disease caused by tobacco use.” And the group is optimistic that the Obama administration will be more sympathetic to its demands than the Bush administration was.
 
In a year 2008 report released Tuesday, the American Lung Association gives the federal government a failing grade on tobacco regulation.
 
In addition, the report faults the federal government for failing to require Medicaid coverage of smoking cessation treatments; and failing to raise the federal cigarette tax. The American Lung Association also wants the Senate to ratify an international tobacco control treaty.
 
All of it is likely to happen on Barack Obama’s watch. For starters, Obama on Monday named Willliam Corr to serve as deputy secretary at the Health and Human Services Department.
 
Corr currently serves as executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a group that also advocates tobacco regulation. According to the Associated Press, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids spent $675,000 last year trying to influence policymakers.

In announcing Corr’s appointment, Obama said overhauling the nation's health care system would be a top priority and a key to putting the economy back on track.
 
"Under the leadership of Tom Daschle and Bill Corr, I am confident that my Department of Health and Human Services will bring people together to reach consensus on how to move forward with health care reform," Obama was quoted as saying in a prepared statement.
 
‘Preventable cause of death’

According to The American Lung Association, tobacco-related illness remains the number-one preventable cause of death in the U.S., claiming more than 393,000 American lives every year and costing our nation $193 billion annually. It says an estimated additional 50,000 people die from exposure to secondhand smoke.
 
"Our new leaders in Washington have an unprecedented opportunity to change the direction of public health by taking steps that ultimately will save millions of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars for the American economy,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.
 
“During these economically challenged times, it simply cannot be ignored that investing in tobacco prevention and cessation programs is one of the most cost effective ways to improve our nation's health while trimming the bottom line," Connor said in a news release on Tuesday.
 
Last year, the House passed a bill that would have allowed the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry, but the bill died in the Senate.
 
The American Lung Association is urging the Democrat-led Congress and President-elect Obama to make FDA tobacco regulation a priority this year.
 
It also wants the federal government to require state Medicaid programs to cover smoking cessation treatments; and it wants Congress to raise the federal cigarette tax from the current 39 cents a pack to at least 60 cents a pack. Research shows that higher cigarette prices reduce cigarette consumption.
 
In its 2008 report, the American Lung Association also graded the states based on smoke-free air laws, cigarette tax rates, tobacco prevention and control programs and coverage of cessation treatments. It says most states “continued to fail to enact these critical policy measures in 2008.”
 
The report also noted that state-level political candidates accepted more than $2.5 million in campaign contributions from the tobacco industry last year.
 
Bush opposed tobacco regulation
 
In July 2008, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said that allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco products would send the wrong message:

"Unlike the medical products FDA regulates, tobacco products cannot be made safe, and there is no medically established public health benefit associated with tobacco," Leavitt wrote in a July 21 letter to Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.).  "Adding tobacco to FDA's regulatory responsibilities could also leave the public with the misperception that tobacco products are safe, or at least safer, with the FDA regulating them."
 
Domestic tobacco regulation does have bipartisan support, however. Last year, Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) were co-sponsors of a Senate bill that would have given the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products.
 
Even Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, has compromised on FDA regulation of tobacco products. The company says such regulation would “bring predictability and clear standards to the tobacco industry in the United States.”