In a June 15 letter, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined the United Methodist Church's Jim Winkler in asking congressional leaders to oppose a bill that would exempt many cigars from control by the Food and Drug Administration.
Their letter went to Rep. Harold Rogers, R.-Ky., chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, and the panel's lead Democrat, Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington.
Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society, and Land wrote on behalf of Faith United Against Tobacco, a coalition of 30 national religious groups.
The attempt to pass a bill, H.R. 1639, to exempt some cigars comes three years after enactment of legislation empowering the FDA to regulate tobacco products for the first time. The religious coalition, with the ERLC as a member, actively pursued passage of that measure.
The health risks of cigar smoking are not the same as those of cigarette smoking, Land and Winkler acknowledged, but they said consistent use of cigars can result in cancer. Nearly 18 percent of high school boys smoke some kind of cigar, they said in the letter.
Land and Winkler urged Rogers and Dicks to oppose an attempt to add the bill to a spending measure for the FDA, saying the agency should maintain authority over all tobacco products, including cigars. Cigar manufacturers, as well as retailers, are leading the effort to exempt some of their products, they told the congressmen.
While the FDA has yet to propose rules for cigars, Land and Winkler said, "Such a broad exemption would prevent FDA from implementing even common-sense rules designed to protect children and others."
Tobacco companies and some retailers have argued the bill would exclude only "traditional large and premium" cigars from regulation, Winkler and Land said, but they contended it could exclude "inexpensive, fruit- and candy-flavored" cigars that appeal to kids.
"The faith community spends too much time burying mothers, sisters, and brothers who die because they become addicted to tobacco products," Land and Winkler said. "We know all too well that the tobacco companies continue to spend billions of dollars to attract people to their deadly products and we urge you not to weaken FDA's authority to protect children and others from cigars and all other tobacco products."
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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