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Coalition wants FDA authority over tobacco



The United Methodist Church is a member of Faith United Against Tobacco, a religious coalition urging U.S. lawmakers to give the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Feb. 28, 2007

A coalition of faith leaders that includes The United Methodist Church testified Feb. 27 at a Senate hearing in Washington in support of legislation to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products.

Faith United Against Tobacco, a coalition of clergy and lay members, supports legislation that would give the FDA power to reduce nicotine levels, require more information on tobacco product labels and restrict marketing to children and teenagers, said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of alcohol, other drugs and health care at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church's social action agency.

On Feb. 26, the faith coalition sent a letter to all members of Congress urging them to support the legislation.

"We have spoken out on this issue because we have spent too much time burying mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who die because they became addicted to tobacco products when they were young," the letter says. "We know that the tobacco companies continue to spend billions of dollars marketing their deadly product to children and far too many high school students smoke. It is time to protect our children and families."
The United Methodist Church has a long history of opposing the use of tobacco products.

In the 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline (Para. 162), the church recommends "total abstinence" from tobacco use. In the Book of Resolutions (Para. 281), the church calls for Congress "to provide the authority to the FDA to regulate the ingredients of tobacco products, their devices, and their products of combustion in order to render harmless the greatest menace to human life in our country's history."

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Tom Davis, R-Va. 

Abrams said one of the most important components of the legislation would restrict how the tobacco industry markets and sells its products to young people. The industry has introduced fruit- and candy-flavored cigarettes and advertising that appeals to youth, she noted.

"Candy-flavored cigarettes are obviously designed to appeal to people who don't like the taste of cigarettes, and who would that be but people who haven't tried them before-usually young people," she said.

"Studies have shown the earlier you start someone drinking or smoking, the more likely they are to have lifelong addiction. They are trying to create a larger customer base."

The legislation also would ban tobacco company advertisements at major sporting events and near schools and playgrounds and would prevent the companies from giving away free samples.

"The religious community-from the left to the right of the political spectrum-agrees that tobacco must be regulated in the United States," said Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

"For decades, women, men and children have been lured into tobacco addiction by an industry free from oversight of the product they push. There is no reason that tobacco should not have to bear the same health scrutiny we require of nearly every other product that has an impact on human health and life."

The coalition said tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing more than $96 billion in health care bills each year. Research shows about 90 percent of all smokers begin the habit in their teens or earlier.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Faith United Against Tobacco

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

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