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Congress should pass bill to regulate tobacco industry

If you heard that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in our country, would you believe it? If you heard that no federal agency has regulatory authority over what is put in cigarettes, would you believe that? Both are true -- and that is why the time for Congress to act is now.

Every day, approximately 4,000 kids try a cigarette for the first time, and another 1,000 become new, regular daily smokers. One-third of these kids will eventually die prematurely as a result.

Congress is considering legislation to grant the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products. The FDA would gain the authority to crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, require disclosure of the contents of tobacco products and removal of dangerous chemicals, and take other steps to protect public health. That's a prescription for fewer kids smoking and fewer lives lost to tobacco.

The need for FDA authority is clear. Tobacco companies continue to market deadly and addictive products to children. They continue to deceive consumers about the harm their products cause. They continue to resist meaningful change to make their products less harmful. How do they get away with this? Simple: they are not regulated.

In the last few years, candy-flavored cigarettes with names like Mocha Taboo and Twista Lime were introduced into the marketplace specifically to target the youth market. Just this year, RJ Reynolds came out with Camel No. 9, with bright pink and teal packaging. RJ Reynolds claims that it is marketing its products to adult women, but common sense and history tell us otherwise. It's yet another ploy by Big Tobacco to addict a new generation of kids.

Last May, the Institute of Medicine released a historic report titled "Ending the Tobacco Problem -- A Blueprint for the Nation," which strongly recommended that Congress enact legislation granting the FDA broad regulatory authority over the manufacture, distribution, marketing and use of tobacco products. The President's Cancer Panel made the same conclusion in its report, "Promoting Healthy Lifestyles: Policy, Program and Personal Recommendations for Reducing Cancer Risk."

Congress has a historic opportunity to protect our kids and health.

Besides our organization, this legislation has the robust support of every major national health organization and of a broad cross-section of American faith leaders and organizations.

Additionally, this legislation has strong, bipartisan support: 55 senators, including Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, have co-sponsored S. 625. In the House, 201 members, including 24 from New York, have co-sponsored the companion bill, HR 1108. We are hopeful that Reps. Vito Fossella, Randy Kuhl, John McHugh, Charlie Rangel, Thomas Reynolds and Nydia Velazquez will soon become co-sponsors as well.

The time is now for oversight of tobacco industry.

Ross Lanzafame is chairman of the board of directors of the American Lung Association of New York State.

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