After Accepting $290,000 from Tobacco Industry, House Conservatives Push ‘Cigarettes For Children’ Amendment

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT)

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) that would immunize the tobacco industry against many FDA regulations preventing them from making tobacco more addictive and marketing it to children.  According to a joint statement by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

[T]he amendment would curtail the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) authority to regulate the contents of tobacco products. It would severely limit the kind of evidence FDA could consider in regulating tobacco and other products and eliminate the FDA’s ability to stop tobacco companies from adding ingredients that make their products more attractive to children and minorities, or more addictive and more difficult to quit using. […]

Among other things, the Rehberg amendment would restrict the FDA’s ability to regulate the use of menthol in cigarettes. The FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee in March 2011 issued an exhaustive report that concluded menthol increases the number of kids who start to smoke and reduces the number of smokers who quit. … [And] the addition of menthol is just one example in the tobacco industry’s long history of designing their products to make them more attractive to children and minorities, or more addictive and difficult to quit using. … The tobacco companies add sugars, flavorings and other substances that make their products easier to use and attractive to children. While there may not be evidence that these additives increase the risk of cancer or other diseases, the FDA should be able to stop such actions that make cigarettes more appealing to children and increase the number of kids who smoke.

The amendment, whose supporters in the Appropriations Committee accepted almost $290,000 in campaign contributions from the tobacco industry, may fall due to a turf war among Republican committee chairs. House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is expected to succeed in an attempt to kill the amendment because it attempts to “legislate on an appropriations bill” in violation of the House rules. Such a procedural objection, however, does little to prevent Rehberg’s gift to the tobacco industry from being repackaged in another bill.

If past is prologue,  such a rebirth of Rehberg’s misguided amendment is likely. FDA recently regained the power to regulate tobacco after President Obama signed a bill permitting such regulation in 2009. So a bill stripping FDA of that power would fit the House GOP’s top agenda item — repealing every single one of Obama’s accomplishments, no matter how much they benefit the American people.

After all, who cares about a silly little thing like preventing kids from smoking when there are political points to be scored against Barack Obama?

Sean Savett