Religious leaders go after big tobacco
Churches ask for FDA regulation of cigarettes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Religious leaders have a “ moral imperative” to urge Congress to allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes, said Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Land was among leaders from several religious denominations who gathered at a Nashville church Tuesday to urge members of the Tennessee congressional delegation to support legislation.
“Every day we must bury mothers, fathers and sisters and brothers who die early from preventable deaths caused by tobacco addiction that more often than not began at a relatively young age,” said Land, the president of the Baptist convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission. “ It is morally wrong to know the good that should be done and not to do it.”
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act would give the FDA authority to restrict tobacco advertising, regulate warning labels, remove hazardous ingredients from cigarettes or reduce nicotine levels.
“ The bill would significantly increase the number of smokers who quit and reduce harm to those who are unable to quit,” said Dr. Chuck Womack, with the American Heart Association Advocacy Committee.
Leaders of various religious organizations, including Baptist, Methodist, Islamic and Jewish groups, have banded together across the country as part of the Faith United Against Tobacco campaign since 2002 to support regulation of smoking.
“ Events like this are happening all around the country where faith leaders are standing up and saying we need regulation of tobacco right now,” said Vincent DeMarco, national coordinator of Faith United Against Tobacco.
In Tennessee, which is among the top states in tobacco consumption, the coalition is targeting U. S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who are among the 33 members of the House Subcommittee on Health who will vote on legislation.
Blackburn spokesman Matt Lambert said it was too early for Blackburn to know if she’d vote against the measure, but in a statement provided to The Associated Press, Blackburn said she feels the FDA is overburdened in its efforts to regulate the country’s food and drug supplies.
“ The tobacco industry is currently regulated by both the Federal Trade Commission and also the Department of Agriculture, in addition to various state and local governments,” she said. “ While the interest of these leaders is commendable, my concern is the unintended consequences of this legislation would not serve the public well.”
Gordon was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Aug. 1 approved the act, though Sen. Lamar Alexander, R- Tenn., voted against it as a member of the committee. Land testified before the committee in support of the bill.
Land said he and his colleagues were not asking for a ban on tobacco products or for them to be treated differently than other regulated items, such as smoking cessation products.
“ We’re simply asking that tobacco products be subject to the same common sense consumer protections as other products,” he said. “ Isn’t it a shame and a disgrace that dog food is more regulated for safety than cigarettes?”
Tobacco companies have generally been opposed to FDA regulation, except for Phillip Morris USA, which broke with competitors to endorse it.