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`Dear Congress' Letters Reveal Hot Views on Smoking

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THE public is huffing and puffing over efforts by Congress to restrict cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.

``This issue is much broader than smoking,'' complains J.R., a woman from Hyattsville, Md., in a letter to Congress. ``It is an issue of a government using my hard-earned dollars to legislate my lifestyle. In some arenas, that philosophy has been called communism.''

Smoking opponents are equally irate. After a House subcommittee grilled top-ranking cigarette company executives at televised hearings, a New Jersey doctor wrote to Rep. Mike Synar (D) of Oklahoma, saying: ``I thoroughly agree with your stand concerning the evils of smoking. I was astounded at the testimony of various heads of the tobacco companies who ... swear that there is no tobacco addiction present. This has to be the epitome of falsification.''

Antismoking efforts have gained surprising momentum since last month's televised hearings chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California.

This week, antismoking congressmen struck again with an amendment that could reach the floor of the House as early as today. The amendment, proposed by Congressman Synar, would be Capitol Hill's toughest action yet against the tobacco interests.

The amendment would give the Food and Drug Administration clear-cut authority to regulate the ``manufacture ... distribution, sale, labeling, advertising, promotion, and content of products containing tobacco.''

The only limitation to FDA's authority under the Synar proposal would be a rule that the agency could not ban sales outright of cigarettes or other products containing tobacco. FDA would still have powerful options, however. For example, regulators could order cigarette makers to remove all nicotine from their products.

Tough talk coming from Capitol Hill has riled many of the nation's 46 million cigarette smokers, as well as some nonsmokers.

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