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Turn FDA loose on tobacco companies

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If there is anything anti-tobacco groups have learned about the national tobacco policy debate this past year, it's that all is not what it appears to be. With that in mind, I would like to comment on your June 18 editorial, "The Senate's tobacco madness," and comment on two of your observations.

Observation No. 1: Big Tobacco campaign contributions, whether direct or indirect, to our elected members of Congress cause them to vote for the interests of the tobacco industry.I must reluctantly agree with your assessment. We find it appalling that our representatives in Washington vote to protect an industry that has intentionally profited from the addiction and disease caused by its products. Secret documents have verified the industry's conspiracy to hide information on the serious health implications of using its products while marketing the product to children.

And yet, Congress voted to protect the industry in spite of their unscrupulous behavior. By their vote did they imply that it is was OK to knowingly produce, distribute and market an addictive product that kills, let alone market it to kids?

Plain and simple, Congress did not have the will to act in the public interest. The industry, through its cleverly designed "tax and spend" $40 million ad campaign, provided its Senate supporters the cover they needed to say, "we have lost our focus," and "the bill collapsed under its own weight."

The bottom line, cutting through all the bull, is that they had a chance to do the right thing for kids and families and they voted to protect Big Tobacco. Very sad.

Observation No. 2: The original attorneys general deal with the tobacco industry is now the best policy to pursue.

I disagree.

Why is a deal with the industry perceived as necessary? Those who advocate concessions to the industry say that it is the only way to make them stop advertising to kids. The argument expoused by some members of Congress is that a law that tries to force advertising regulations on kids will be challenged as unconstitutional and debated in courts with an almost certain judgment in support of the industry's free speech. However, many constitutional law experts believe it unlikely that the Supreme Court would rule that the Constitution sanctions the marketing of a deadly product to kids so they can engage in an illegal behavior. Bottom line: Some in Congress say it's not worth the court fight so let's cut a deal.

But wait, if you still believe that Congress must get Big Tobacco to "please stop marketing to kids because we don't have the will to make you stop," here's something ironic to consider. When other countries have forced underaged advertising restrictions on Big Tobacco that are similar to the ones in the AG deal, teen smoking rates have not gone down. Big Tobacco hired very talented people in those countries to make their products attractive to kids in ways not restricted by law. Maybe there are alternatives to stop marketing tobacco to children without giving them immunity.

First, and to the AGs' credit, Big Tobacco must be penalized if teen smoking rates don't go down based on brand names smoked. But don't make the penalty a light slap across the wrists that allows Big Tobacco to easily pay the fine by raising the price of cigarettes 2 or 3 cents a pack.

Second, don't give Big Tobacco any immunity from lawsuits. They don't have it now, so there's nothing to give them. If juries award large settlements because the industry was found to market to teens, thus causing adult disease, it's guaranteed that the industry will become self-policing if their bottom line is seriously threatened. But don't be surprised if Congress tries again to protect the industry from lawsuits in the name of protecting children.

Preventing Big Tobacco from marketing to children is but one of a variety of policy strategies recommended by Koop/

Kessler, and although an important one, it is not the only one that offers a solution to tobacco reduction. What would really simplify the debate would be to let FDA fully regulate tobacco advertising and the content of cigarettes and other tobacco products and the marketing issue will take care of itself without the immunity and big dollar distractions. It makes sense and it's simple on paper but get those "mute" buttons ready and brace yourself for another "Big Government" ad campaign brought to you by "Big Tobacco." Unfortunately, they haven't stopped running the other one.