11/30/2011 05:04 pm ET

We Can't Afford to Wait to Regulate Tobacco

The federal government regulates everything from breakfast cereal and hair dye to horse feed and breast implants. The list of items regulated by our government includes just about every consumable product in America, from prescription drugs to vegetables.

But there's one item strangely absent from the list, one that causes more preventable deaths than any other product. A powerful and well-funded lobby has managed to keep tobacco off the list of federally regulated products for more than 40 years following the first surgeon general's report linked smoking to cancer. Even today, a simple list of ingredients is not required for tobacco products.

Tobacco companies have taken advantage of this lack of oversight and have shamelessly marketed to under-aged recruits through cartoon advertising, nicotine and ingredient manipulation, fruity flavors, free give-aways at rock concerts and ads in publications with high teen readership.

In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration assumed the authority to regulate tobacco as a consumable product and published rules regarding this regulation. Some basic common sense approaches were proposed in those rules, including ways to prohibit the sale and marketing of tobacco to children. However, the Supreme Court ruled that only Congress could give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco.

Twelve years later, we continue to wait for Congress to take action regarding this lone unregulated product.

Currently being considered by Congress, the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products and the marketing of those products. It is the most important piece of public health legislation Congress could enact this year, and would be a major bipartisan accomplishment given the breadth of support on both sides of the aisle.

With only a limited amount of time remaining in the legislative session this year, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network urges all members of Congress to make this legislation a priority, and help save the next generation of children from the scourge of tobacco addiction. They cannot wait another 12 years for action.

Daniel E. Smith is president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy partner of the American Cancer Society that supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem.