Hillary pressed to take on Big Tobacco

Hillary Clinton, Chipotle, 2016
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Public health groups are urging newly minted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to follow in her husband’s footsteps and take on Big Tobacco.

The calls for Clinton to make the issue part of her campaign platform take place amid a growing push to raise the national smoking age to 21.

“From a national standpoint, we’d love to see Mrs. Clinton run on a public health platform and specifically a tobacco reform platform,” said Chris Bostic, deputy director for policy at the Action on Smoking & Health.

{mosads}“I’m not a skilled political analyst, but if you look at the polling numbers it would seem to be a winner. Even smokers don’t want to see their kids, nieces and nephews smoking.”

Included in that tobacco reform platform, health groups say, should be a higher legal smoking age. The cause has gained support following a March report from the Institute of Medicine concluding that the action would prevent 223,000 premature deaths and 50,000 deaths from lung cancer.

Longtime Democratic strategist Jim Manley said raising the smoking age could be an issue Clinton is “comfortable working on.”

“She’s a strong advocate of public health including efforts to deal with the problems associated with tobacco smoking,” said Manley, now of the firm QGA.

The former secretary of State, who announced her bid for the presidency on Sunday, said in 2000 that she’d work to regulate tobacco products to keep industry from being able to target kids.

Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merrill, declined to comment for this story, but if her husband’s presidential campaign gives any insight to the issues she’s planning to run on, tobacco could be one.

Bill Clinton not only used Big Tobacco to launch campaign attacks against Al Gore in his 1992 race for the White House, he pushed Congress to raise the price of cigarettes and, as president, signed an executive order banning smoking in any interior space owned by the federal government. 
It may be too soon to tell what the hot-button issues of the 2016 race will be, but the drive to raise the smoking age appears to be gaining steam.

Citing the Institute of Medicine’s report, The Washington Post last month came out in favor of raising the smoking age to 21 — or even as high as 25.

“Cities, states and even Congress should consider this option seriously,” the newspaper said in a March 23 editorial.

Erika Sward, the assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association, said the group is in talks with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) about introducing a bill to raise the age.

“We’ve had conversations already and we’re up for having more conversations with his office or others that have an interest in drafting an effective tobacco control policy,” she said.

Public health groups are hoping state and local efforts in the short term will ultimately move policymakers in Washington to act, as was the case with raising the national drinking age in the 1980s.

Dr. Robert Crane, president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation and clinical associate professor of family medicine at Ohio State University, said a total of 59 cities in seven states have raised the smoking age.

“I think there are currently nine active bills in state legislatures as well as the D.C.
Council,” he said. “If Mrs. Clinton decided to take this up we’d be very happy for the attention, but the ability to work with Congress to make this happen would be an overwhelming challenge.”

“She is an ardent advocate for public health as her husband was before her and I think that gives us cheer in general in the public health community,” he added. “But having said that she faces a very difficult challenge in Congress and her own administration.”

Crane said almost every federal effort to regulate tobacco has been a disaster. He pointed to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which gave the Food and Drug Administration the ability to regulate tobacco for the first time. Lawsuits from the tobacco industry, he said, have kept the agency from issuing any regulations on the sale or marketing of tobacco products.

Health groups are still waiting for the FDA to assert its authority over all tobacco products, including cigars and electronic cigarettes, and propose regulations on flavoring and marketing.

“Due to the lack of FDA regulation, we’re seeing an explosion in the number of youth using these products,” said Gregg Haifley, director of federal relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Altria Group Inc., one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, said it supports the current minimum age of 18 for the sale of all tobacco products that’s now required by the federal Tobacco Control Act of 2009.

In a statement, David Sutton, a spokesman for the company, said the act also requires the FDA to study the public health implications of increasing the minimum age and to report its findings to Congress by April 2015. The Institute of Medicine report, he said, was the first step.

“This is a complex issue and Congress has established a thoughtful process to better understand it,” he said. “That process is just beginning.”

Tags Cigarette Hillary Clinton Smoking Tobacco

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