Snap Fact #169

President Obama Fights The Smoke Screen That Filters The Effects Of Tobacco Regulation!
This is number one of a series about the accomplishments of the 111th Congress under the Obama Administration, and it's not a particularly pretty sight. We start with a follow up to SNAP-CAP # 142 which addresses the passage of the "Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act", which was signed into law on June 22, 2009. Passing an Act of Congress is one thing, implementing it is quite another. In summary, the Act passed by Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased powers to regulate the tobacco industry. This included, among other things, the power to regulate their advertising, especially to youngsters. For anyone on the fence about who to vote for this November, this example of Republican foot dragging and outright resistance to a program benefiting the health and treasure of our society speaks loudly. Although this is not a headline story it examplfies what we are up against. Even after a debate is lost in Congress, the right wing does everything possible to keep a good program from being effective. 

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite these risks, approximately 46.6 million U.S. adults still smoke cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, cigars, and pipes also have deadly consequences, including lung, larynx, esophageal, and oral cancers. The harmful effects of smoking do not end with the smoker. An estimated 88 million nonsmoking Americans, including 54% of children aged 3–11 years, are exposed to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure can be dangerous because nonsmokers inhale many of the same poisons in cigarette smoke as smokers. Smoking is a major contributor to many chronic diseases that are driving up the nation's health care costs. Each year, diseases caused by cigarette smoking result in $96 billion in health care costs, much of which is paid by taxpayers through publicly-funded health programs.

A sample of the scope of the health crisis that is caused by smokers comes from a local New Jersey study. New Jersey’s Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers founder and family medicine practitioner, Jeffrey Brenner, used medical billing records to find that just 1% of patients accounted for 30% of health care costs in Camden. And that's not all he discovered in the city's three hospitals. He says: "We learned that someone went (to the hospital) 113 times in one year. Someone went 324 times in five years. In similar workup in Trenton, they found someone who went 450 times in one year." These were people with complicated medical histories and chronic illnesses. One patient alone racked up $3.5 million in medical bills over a five year period. As Brenner says: "They're the difficult patients to treat, and no one is being paid and incentivized to pay attention to them" What's more, Camden's problem is America's problem. Just 5% of Americans accounted for half of our nation's health care costs in 2009. This is perhaps the crucial statistic to understand about America's health care problem.


Even after the passage of this Bill, the tobacco companies and the conservative elements in our society continue to fight its implementation, even at the cost of so many lives, so much illness, and the staggering costs borne by our health system. President Obama's FDA had required that Beginning September 2012*, larger, more prominent cigarette health warnings would be prominently displayed using graphic pictures on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. These warnings would mark the first change in cigarette warnings in more than 25 years and are a significant advancement in communicating the dangers of smoking. (see illustrations below)

The opposition fights this effective common sense educational program at every level. In a 2010 report, the American Lung Association gave the Federal Government high marks for their fight against the dangers of tobacco. At the same time they wrote scathingly of the lack of progress and setbacks in the states. While tobacco companies plead to the courts that their First Amendment freedom of speech is being abridged, and their Tea Party backers noisily scream for the choice of personal freedom, who will protect the rights of the non-smoker from this societal scourge that we are all diminished by?



However, nothing is simple in America today. The big tobacco companies are fighting the packaging in court. The essence of their argument is that the packaging regulations impede their freedom of speech. The new packaging was ordered to go into effect on September 22 of 2012. However the implementation date, and even its viability, is uncertain due to ongoing proceedings in the case of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, No. 11-1482 (D.D.C.), on appeal, No. 11-5332 (D.C. Cir.). Ultimately the Supreme Court will rule on this and we all know how their rulings have been coming out on this type of a case.