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Statement: Response to Obama Signing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act

June 23, 2009

By Kathy Mulvey, International Policy Director

President Obama’s signing of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is a critical step toward regulating what has historically been one of the least regulated products in commerce, and reversing an epidemic that continues to be the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
 
It is a victory for public health that has been a long time coming. For more than 15 years Corporate Accountability has joined with its allies in calling for Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco – in particular, the curtailing of tobacco advertising and promotion.

The Act also lays the groundwork for U.S. ratification of the global tobacco treaty As the President noted in his remarks yesterday, “We know that even with the passage of this legislation, our work to protect our children and improve the public's health is not complete. Today, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death not just in America, but also in the world. If current trends continue, one billion people will die from tobacco-related illnesses this century. And so the United States will continue to work with the World Health Organization and other nations to fight this epidemic on a global basis.”

Formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the global tobacco treaty has been ratified by more than 160 countries and protects more than 85 percent of the world’s people. As a Senator, President Obama was a leader in calling for then-President Bush to submit the treaty to the Senate.  But despite signing the treaty in May 2004, Bush never followed through.

So the winds of change appear to be blowing not just for domestic tobacco control, but for U.S. partnership in this critical global initiative. By strengthening warning labels on tobacco products – providing for large, graphic warnings – the Act removes a key obstacle to U.S. compliance with treaty obligations.

However, this victory is not without its complications. The Act allows for tobacco industry representation on a new scientific advisory committee. Not only is the inclusion of the industry on this committee akin to letting the fox guard the henhouse, it runs counter to a treaty provision that obligates ratifying countries to safeguard their health policies against tobacco industry interference. The industry’s inclusion on health-related committees is inconsistent with the treaty’s implementation guidelines – guidelines that were unanimously endorsed by parties to the treaty last November in Durban, South Africa.

U.S. policymakers must now gird themselves for inevitable attempts by Big Tobacco to delay and thwart the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Altria (Philip Morris USA) claimed to support the legislation, though it played a central role in challenging FDA regulation of tobacco throughout the 1990s. Philip Morris International, which no longer manufactures or markets tobacco in the U.S., nonetheless has a lobbying presence in Washington, DC. PMI CEO Louis Camilleri told shareholders last month that “We are a U.S. company. . . . We need politicians’ help.” The Association of National Advertisers has already stated its intention to fight the Act’s limits on tobacco marketing and promotion, and expects a tobacco corporation to take a lead on the suit.
 
Today, Congress and the President are to be commended for enacting this important legislation. Tomorrow will be the test of our leaders’ resolve in standing up to the tobacco lobby for the long haul. Ratifying the treaty and eliminating dangerous conflicts of interest with public health down the line will demonstrate this resolve.

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