Obama signs tobacco regulation bill

By Staff
Jun 24, 2009

President Obama signed into law June 22 legislation giving authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products for the first time.

The new law — supported for years by health, education and religious organizations while being opposed by many groups affiliated with the tobacco industry -– enables the Food and Drug Administration to control the manufacture, promotion and sale of such products as cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other advocates for the new law applauded the bill’s enactment.

ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke described the signing of the bill as “an historic event that we’ve been working toward for years.”

“We’re delighted that we’ve finally been able to come to this point where the FDA is going to be regulating tobacco and tobacco products in the same way that they regulate what is in macaroni and cheese and just about everything else people consume today…. [W]e’re very encouraged by this development,” said Duke, who attended the Rose Garden signing ceremony.

In remarks before he signed the bill, Obama cited the devastating effects of tobacco use in the United States: 400,00 deaths a year from related illnesses; at least one serious, smoking-caused illness for more than 8 million people; an annual health-care cost of about $100 billion; 1,000 new, regular smokers under the age of 18 each day.

The president spoke of his own struggle to stop smoking.

“I was one of those teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time,” Obama said.

Smoking is “something that he continues to struggle with,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of Obama at a press briefing the same day. Gibbs did not say whether the president still smokes.

Obama called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act “a law that will save American lives and make Americans healthier.”

“[T]he decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious,” he said. “Today, change has come to Washington.”

Among its provisions, the new law will:

  • limit the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, especially to children.
  • crack down on tobacco sales to minors.
  • prohibit candy-, fruit- and spice-flavored cigarettes.
  • ban the use of such terms as “light” and “low tar” with tobacco products.
  • require larger health warnings on tobacco packaging and in advertising.
  • mandate tobacco companies reveal the contents of their products.
  • empower the FDA to require such changes as the reduction of nicotine and the removal or reduction of other harmful products.

Congress gave final approval to the legislation June 12. The House approved the bill in a 307-97 vote, a day after the Senate voted 79-17 for it.

The new law’s advocates contended there would continue to be a lack of regulation of tobacco unless the FDA received such authority. Opponents of the measure argued it would give the FDA responsibility outside its normal purview and would overly burden the agency.

Duke told Baptist Press the FDA is “eager to receive this charge, and so we feel confident that they will resist the efforts of some … of the tobacco industry to weaken the regulations. We’ll continue, however, to work with the administration to do all that we can to see to it that the law that was passed protects young people especially from an aggressive marketing campaign by the tobacco industry and we begin to take the next step in reducing the death and harm caused by tobacco in the United States.”

ERLC President Richard Land served as one of the leaders of the religious coalition that backed the legislation for several years. Other organizations in the 25-member Faith United Against Tobacco included the United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches USA, National Council of Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Islamic Society of North America.

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed tobacco-related resolutions dating to 1932. A 1984 resolution urged churches and other SBC entities to encourage Southern Baptists not to use tobacco. It also called on Southern Baptist farmers not to raise tobacco but to grow another crop when feasible. In 2005, the SBC adopted a resolution urging an increased effort to reduce smoking by teenagers.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission works to fight substance abuse across the country. If you would like to learn more about this important issue, additional resources are available here. If your church is interested in purchasing materials on substance abuse, please visit our online bookstore and erlc.com.

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