When I first came to the U.S. Senate ten years ago, our state of Maine had the dubious distinction of having the highest smoking rate among 18 to 34 year olds in the country. Nearly 40 percent of Maine high school students smoked, and nearly one and a half million packs of cigarettes were illegally purchased by Maine’s young people each year.
|Sen. Susan Collins represents the State of Maine in the U.S. Senate.|
Thankfully, smoking among Maine high school students has since dropped dramatically. This turnaround is due, in large part, to the efforts of our public health community, educators, and most of all, Maine’s young people themselves.
Nationally, an estimated one thousand kids become new regular smokers each day. On March 28th, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, along with school children around Maine, will celebrate its annual "Kick Butts Day." This day was created to raise awareness about tobacco problems, to support prevention policies, and to recognize youth leadership and activism in the fight against tobacco use.
This year, "Kick Butts Day" is focusing attention on the number 1,200. Sadly, statistics show that 1,200 is the number of Americans who die every day from diseases caused by smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke. That means tobacco is to blame for more than 400,000 deaths a year, costing our nation more than $96 billion in health care bills. Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in our country today.
Despite all the harm that they can cause, tobacco products are exempt from even basic health and safety regulations. No federal agency has the authority to require tobacco companies to list the ingredients in their products or to inspect manufacturing operations. It makes absolutely no sense that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires Philip Morris to print the ingredients in its Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but not the ingredients in its cigarettes.
That is why I am pleased to be an original cosponsor of legislation to help reduce youth smoking rates by providing for the regulation of tobacco products by the Secretary of Health and Human Services through the FDA. This legislation entitled; "The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act," would, for the first time, provide federal oversight for potentially deadly tobacco products, which have gone unregulated for far too long. It would help stop illegal sales of tobacco products to children and restrict tobacco advertising and promotions that target children. This bill also requires the disclosure of the contents of tobacco products and their health effects and requires large and more informative health warnings on tobacco products.
The single most effective thing we can do to improve our nation’s health is to reduce tobacco consumption, particularly among young people. Events, such as National Kick Butts Day, help make clear that while far too many teenagers continue to smoke, aggressive anti-smoking campaigns like the one Maine began in 1997 do indeed work.
While our states are doing good work, if we are to succeed in our fight to reduce tobacco use, the federal government must play a role as well. The legislation that I have cosponsored gives the FDA the clear authority that it needs to work in partnership with the States and local governments to reduce the number of Americans who die each year from tobacco use. In the past, Congress has come close to enacting this new law. It is time for Congress to pass this legislation to protect our youth and save lives.