For a long time, anti-tobacco advocates have asked the United States government to put further controls on the regulating tobacco. To date, these movements have been successful in many areas, especially on the local and state levels. In my state, Ohio, we have a state-wide ban on smoking indoors in public places. It was the first Midwestern and tobacco growing state to do so, but it hasn’t been the last. Many places have followed suit. But, it has had some trouble passing the regulations at a federal level. Of course, the federal government too plays a role in curbing tobacco use through prevention education, policing illegal activity, taxation, and other measures, but it hasn’t unified its regulation efforts under one body.

Finally, the U.S. Congress is poised to take some action, expected this week, regarding this issue. On Wednesday, according to a recent NY Times article, “landmark legislation to put tobacco under control of the Food and Drug Administration will surface in Congress next Wednesday” when the bill reaches the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. If all goes well, experts believe it could reach the President’s desk early this year.

A similar version of this bill was created last year by a majority in both the House and Senate, but President Bush did not support the initiative, helping to lead to its postponement until now. Specifically, this bill would create a new office within the FDA that would handle reducing tobacco sales and advertisements to young people. It would allow the FDA to create more powerful warning labels complete with “graphic descriptions” of tobacco-related illnesses. One controversial issue regarding the bill’s crafting was whether the bill itself would ban cigarettes or menthol additives, a chemical that makes cigarettes more addicting. Eventually, it was decided in a careful compromise that the FDA would have the power to decide menthol restrictions if passed.

This legislation is very significant because there is always improvement to be made in improving Americans’ health through tobacco-use reduction. A recent study done by the American Lung Association (as reported by the Washington Post) gives the federal government an F in its major evaluation categories. The report cites the low federal cigarette tax at $0.39, the non-passage of the bill presently for tobacco control to be placed under the FDA, failure to ratify by the Senate the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (a treaty to limit smoking health risks across the world), and for not requiring state Medicaid programs to cover smoking cessation programs.

Fortunately, the House Committee taking a vote on this bill Wednesday could prove to be a positive step in the right direction. The bill comes with wide support from Congress as well as Phillip Morris, the industry sales leader. However, there are some detractors that feel the FDA won’t be able to sufficiently regulate it, and some feel the bill isn’t strong enough. The fight against tobacco will continue to take new shapes in the coming months and years, and it will be interesting to see how it progresses.

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