There may be a few Americans out there who really enjoy their cigarette habit, but by far the majority will tell you they wish they could quit.
It’s an expensive and often offensive habit, not to mention being the nation’s largest single cause of preventable death.
Federal legislation that went to the president Friday could make a significant dent in America’s smoking addiction. It not only would institute a number of measures aimed at preventing young people from becoming smokers but also gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate levels of tar and nicotine, the cigarette ingredients that promote addiction.
Although the connection between cigarettes and cancer has been known for decades, the new laws will require even stronger warning labels. It bans the use of words like “mild” or “light” that might lead a consumer to believe cigarettes are less harmful. It also bans flavored cigarettes and advertising that is targeted toward young people.
Perhaps even more important, it forces tobacco companies to seek approval from the FDA before marketing new products and give the FDA power to regulate cigarettes more like a drug, perhaps leading to changes in cigarette ingredients. The law goes about as far as the government can to reduce the consumption of tobacco short of simply outlawing it.
Although the bill passed both houses by large majorities, there were, of course, opponents, mostly lawmakers from tobacco-producing states. Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from North Carolina, reportedly argued that “allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco in any capacity would lead to the FDA regulating the family farm.” That would seem to be true only if those farms were raising products that posed a serious health hazard to consumers.
Some people may think eating red meat, for instance, isn’t the most healthy choice, but it pales by comparison with the 400,000 people who die every year from tobacco-related diseases, according to government figures. Those deaths represent individual tragedies as well as a $100 billion national price tag to provide health care for people with tobacco-related illnesses.
In a nation built on individual freedom, Americans still will be free to smoke, but the legislation passed Friday may make cigarettes at least a little less attractive to smokers and especially to young people who haven’t yet decided to take up the habit.