Outside editorial: FDA should control tobacco

Posted: Monday, April 21, 2008

This editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

I t's an irony of modern life that consumers can get more information on products that keep them alive than on products that are proven killers.

Food shoppers can make choices based on vitamin and fiber content printed on labels of processed foods. They can avoid sugared-up cereals or indulgences like cream pies that clog the arteries with trans fat.

But when it comes to tobacco, buyers can only guess about dangerous contents. Some cigarettes emit more carcinogens and poisons, like cyanide, than others. Some contain more addictive nicotine or additives like ammonia.

Consumers - especially risk-taking smokers - deserve to know the full story about potentially fatal products.

Legislation in Congress would put labeling of tobacco products where it belongs, under the authority of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (just like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is now). The proposal would require larger, more detailed warnings on cigarette packaging. The FDA also would gain control of the ways makers amp up their products.

These are overdue changes for overseeing an industry that peddles products with devastating health consequences. The U.S. surgeon general has estimated that cigarettes kill 440,000 Americans each year, cutting short men's lives by an average of 13.2 years and women's by 14.5 years.

After years of trying to rein in the tobacco industry, Congress should finally muster the political courage. Bills in both houses could get floor votes in the weeks ahead, and more Texans should join the list of sponsors. Today, they include Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Those standing on the sidelines should explain how they can defend the cruel hoax of "light" cigarettes and the false implication that these products are somehow safer. The legislation would ban such messages, along with the insidious practice of cigarette giveaways.

A surgeon general's report three years ago established new health hazards from smoking, covering every organ of the body. New diseases included were cataracts, acute myeloid leukemia, abdominal aortic aneurysm, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, kidney cancer and periodontitis. It linked hip fractures and reproductive complications.

Enough said?

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