Time is running out for Congress to come up with spending bills to fund the federal government. Given the misery another government shutdown would impose on Americans, members of Congress should be hard at work to help come up with an agreement - not hindering the process by trying to force inclusion of unrelated legislative provisions, known as policy riders, into bills that would fund the government.
Yet some in Congress are determined to use whatever means necessary to advance dangerous provisions that would threaten the health of millions of Americans. Hundreds of riders have been proposed, many of which aim squarely at weakening critical protections for lung health. If any of these become law, our children's health will suffer.
For example, one rider would weaken FDA's ability to protect kids from tobacco. There are currently thousands of unregulated tobacco products on the market, including candy-flavored cigars, e-cigarettes and hookah. This provision would grandfather these products in, making it much easier for the industry to continue marketing flavored products to kids.
Earlier this spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that e-cigarette use by youth tripled in one year and that e-cigarettes are now more commonly used by youth than regular cigarettes (1) . Now is not the time to weaken FDA oversight of tobacco products.
Other riders would worsen lung health by blocking safeguards that reduce dangerous air pollution. One would block the Clean Power Plan, which will limit carbon pollution from power plants. Not only will the Clean Power Plan limit pollution that contributes to climate change, it will cut other dangerous pollution at the same time, preventing up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks every year once fully implemented (2) .
Another would block or delay the updated ozone pollution protections that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized. Ozone - the largest component of smog pollution - causes asthma attacks and even premature death (3) . Anyone can suffer health consequences on high ozone days, but kids are among those who are at greater risk of harm. The new ozone standards will help clean up more of this dangerous pollutant, and will better inform families about the quality of their air. For a child with asthma, knowing when it's safe to play outside can prevent a trip to the emergency room; long-term, of course, staying inside is not the solution to pollution in the air we breathe.
Our nation has made great progress in cleaning up dangerous air pollution precisely because of protections like the updated ozone standards. The Clean Air Act, which is the basis for both the ozone standards and the Clean Power Plan, is one of our nation's most successful public health laws. The Act has saved millions of lives since Congress passed it in 1970. What's more, cleaning up the air has historically proven a sound investment. EPA projects that by 2020, the health benefits of the Clean Air Act will exceed $2 trillion, far outweighing the costs of $65 billion (4) .
Weakening the Clean Air Act or the Tobacco Control Act would harm Americans' health, particularly children. And these are just a few of the hundreds of dangerous riders that have been proposed.
Our kids have the right to be protected from predatory marketing of tobacco products and from dangerous air pollution. Please let your representatives in Congress know that you want to see them support a bill to fund the federal government that's free of dangerous riders. Anything less puts our families' health and the most vulnerable in our communities at risk.
(1) Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students -- United States, 2011-2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. April 17, 2015; 64(14):381-5.
(2) Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fact Sheet: Overview of the Clean Power Plan.
(3) Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ozone and Your Health.
(4) Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990-2020 Summary Report. March 2011.