Smokers will be having to decide if they can afford to continue smoking after the U.S. House passed a massive tobacco bill. The vote in the House at 298-112 may have been a huge victory for the FDA but the Senate is expected to have a harder battle between public health advocates and the tobacco industry fighting their cause.
Senator Ted Kennedy is behind the new bill. He plans to introduce a version of the House bill after Congress returns from a two-week recess. He is hoping that there will be a speedy passage.
Kennedy may not get that wish. Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina is promising a filibuster. His state’s economy needs the tobacco industry as it’s the leading tobacco producing state.
Kennedy has the President in his pocket on this one. President Obama according to the Office of Management and Budget strongly supports the legislation.
The New York Times reports:
“Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is a contributing factor to scores of diseases and conditions inflicting misery upon millions of our citizens,” the administration statement said. “Further, tobacco use is a major factor driving the increasing costs of health care in the U.S. and accounts for over a hundred billion dollars annually in financial costs to the economy.”
The House bill would set up a F.D.A. office. The costs of that office would be supplied by the industry. One of the proposed higher powers that the agency would possess would be the ability to approve or reject new tobacco products and to expand marketing restrictions and warning labels. The office would also be able to do more studies on nicotine and menthol. If the bill(HR 1256) passes the Senate the FDA would also have the power to enforce new marketing and advertising restrictions. Another provision of the new federal tobacco tax is helping fund health insurance programs for uninsured children.
Public Health Advocates are praising the House’s passage of the bill. CQ Politics reports:
“The tobacco industry has proved that it cannot be trusted to regulate itself and protect children from the deadly effects of tobacco use,” said American Heart Association chief executive Nancy Brown. “Shameful attempts to addict children and young adults with misleading advertising campaigns must come to an end. This legislation will save lives, help break the cycle of addiction, reduce health care costs and force tobacco companies to educate consumers about the true health hazards associated with tobacco products.”
A separate bill introduced by Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind. would have eliminated the FDA provisions and created a department within the Department of Health and Human Services called “Tobacco Harm Reduction Center.” That bill was defeated 142-284.
Meanwhile another bill in Hawaii is set to raise the state’s tax on smokes.
“That is just not right tax somebody else leave us alone we’re already taxed, the most taxed product on the planet,” said Kawika Crowley of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance.
What’s at stake is $0.40 to a pack of cigarettes in additional to the $0.62 hike that went into effect on Wednesday from a federal tax hike. The bill isn’t limited to cigarette smokers, cigar enthusiasts will see the tax increase also.
Brian Redondo told KHNL that not even the higher cost is going to stop his habit.
“I’m not ready to quit yet and I guess it’s going to good use,” he said. “I’m willing to pay the extra 60 cents.”
Gene Park who was recently laid off, on the other hand has decided that he is on his last pack.
“It’ll be tough to wake up in the morning and go to work without my morning cigarette,” he said. “Before the tax increase, I estimated that I spent about $2,400 a year on cigarettes and that’s not including the lighters I buy, so I’ll look at this as a $2,400 raise.
“It does feel like the government does kind of pick on smokers sometimes, especially these hard times, it’s really hard to quit, but then again you can look at it another way, say it’s hard times right now, so we should start cutting out things we don’t really need,” Park said.