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Virginia Faith Leaders Call on Senators Webb & Warner to Cosponsor Legislation to Protect Kids from Tobacco

RICHMOND, Va., Oct. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A diverse coalition of clergy and lay members from throughout Virginia held a press conference today to urge U.S. Senators John Warner (R-VA) and Jim Webb (D-VA) and the entire Virginia Congressional Delegation to support legislation that gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products. The legislation would protect kids from tobacco and save lives.

Despite all the death and disease they cause, tobacco products are virtually unregulated. This continuing lack of regulation allows the tobacco companies to market their deadly products to children, deceive consumers about the harm their products cause and resist even the most minimal steps to make their products less harmful.

"The religious community - from the left to the right of the political spectrum - agrees that tobacco must be regulated in the United States," said Reverend Marc Brown, Richmond District Superintendent, United Methodist Church. "For decades, women, men and children have been lured into tobacco addiction by an industry and product free from oversight. 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 legislation pending in Congress would give FDA the authority to crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, stop tobacco companies from misleading the public about the health risks of their products and allow changes in these products, such as the reduction or removal of harmful constituents. Unbelievably, despite being the most deadly product sold in America, tobacco products are exempt from basic health regulations that apply to other products we consume, such as food and drugs. The FDA regulates a box of macaroni and cheese and a tube of lipstick, but not a pack of cigarettes.

"Restricting retail marketing practices would significantly reduce youth smoking," said Dr. Imad Damaj, President, Virginia Muslim Coalition. "It is critical to our communities and our public health to stop the marketing of tobacco products to our children. Congress needs to authorize the FDA to put an end to this marketing and help us protect our children from this deadly addiction."

Recent reports by the President's Cancer Panel and Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that in order for the United States to dramatically reduce tobacco use as a significant public health problem, it is essential to provide FDA authority over tobacco products. As the IOM concluded, "The time has come for Congress to exercise its acknowledged authority to regulate the production, marketing and distribution of tobacco products."

"The tobacco companies get away with their harmful practices because no government agency currently has any real authority over how tobacco products are manufactured or marketed," said Rabbi Ben Romer of Richmond's Congregation Or Ami. "This year, Congress has an opportunity to do something truly important to improve the health of America's families."

Identical, bipartisan bills to grant the FDA authority over tobacco have been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives. Demonstrating strong, bipartisan support, the legislation has 55 Senate sponsors and 200 House sponsors. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the legislation on August 1.

This legislation has the support of every major national public health organization and more than 500 public health, faith and other organizations across the country (see list at: ), as well as the strong support of the American people. According to a recent national poll, 70 percent of voters support Congress passing the legislation and 72 percent believe passage of the legislation would be an important accomplishment for Congress. The poll also shows FDA regulation of tobacco is supported across political lines, geographic regions and even by a majority of smokers (detailed poll results:

Nationwide, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people and costs more than $96 billion in health care bills each year. Currently, 23 percent of high school students smoke and more than 1,000 kids become new regular smokers every day. In Virginia, tobacco use kills 9,300 residents and costs the state $2.08 billion in health care bills a year, and 21 percent of high school students smoke.

SOURCE Faith United Against Tobacco
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