Obama Scolds Tobacco Companies Over Labeling

President Barack Obama scolded tobacco companies Thursday for trying to block health warning labels on cigarettes, a product the world leader himself only recently quit using.

“The fact is quitting smoking is hard, believe me, I know,” Obama said in a recorded statement posted on the White House’s Web site Thursday. The message coincided with the Great American Smokeout, an annual campaign to encourage Americans to quit smoking sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

“Today some big tobacco companies are trying to block these labels because they don’t want to be honest about the consequences of using their products,” said Obama. “Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising.”
In 2009, Congress passed Family Prevention and Tobacco Control, which put tobacco products under the watch of the Food and Drug Administration and forced companies to label their products.

In August, several tobacco companies fired back with a lawsuit against the FDA, FDA chief Margaret Hamburg and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The lawsuit claimed that the graphic warning labels violated the constitutional rights of the companies.
The White House announced Oct. 31 that the president was tobacco-free. The medical exam, given by presidential physician Dr. Jeff Kuhlman, stated that Obama was in good health, tobacco free and fit for duty.
The International Tobacco Regulators’ Conference was held Wednesday in Maryland, a meeting of 65 regulatory agencies from 22 countries hosted by the FDA and the World Health Organization.
“The industry sees the entire world as a potential market,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a press statement. “It is only natural that like-minded leaders band together to combat this global threat in unison.”

The tough talk did little to rattle stocks in tobacco companies. Stocks rose in three of the world’s largest tobacco companies in Thursday trading including Reynolds American, Inc. (RAI), parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings, Inc.; Altria Group, Inc. and Vector Group, Ltd. Stocks in British American Tobacco fell Thursday.
“The best way to prevent the health problems that come with smoking is to keep young people from starting in the first place,” Obama said.

Government officials pushed the campaign to restrict tobacco manufacturers from reaching the next generation of potential smokers.
The campaign is “making tobacco not cool to kids, letting kids know at an early age that this will cause a lifetime of harm,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an interview Thursday with iVillage correspondent Kelly Wallace.
Every day, 3,800 teens aged 12-17 smoke a cigarette for the first time, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey showed that each year, 1,000 teens cross over to become daily smokers.

Sebelius, herself a smoker when she was a teenager, said, “It was stupid, I thought it was cool.
“Doing something that (teens) think is going to be social and ‘I’ll do it every once in a while’ can quickly become a habit,” she said. “The fact that I used to smoke will be with me forever,” including increased risk for cancer,” she said.

Sebelius said government regulators were using various strategies to reduce cigarette consumption in youth. For example, on Nov. 10, the FDA released a list of 1,200 retailers slapped with warnings of underage selling. Some states have also boosted cigarette taxes, which prohibits teen sales, Sebelius said.

By Trevor Stokes


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