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Congress Acts on Smokeless Tobacco Warning Label, Ad Ban

February 4, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Faced with mounting evidence that youngsters are turning to snuff and chewing tobacco as alternatives to cigarettes, Congress took a first step toward requiring health warning labels on smokeless tobacco and banning its broadcast advertising.

The House on Monday approved on a voice vote a bill that would require one of three rotating warning labels to be added to tins and pouches: ″This product may cause oral cancer,″ ″This product may cause gum disease and tooth loss″ or ″This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.″

Arrows and circles would draw attention to the warning labels. And television and radio advertising, which now often feature professional athletes touting the products, would be banned.

The Senate, which had approved a similar measure earlier, now gets the bill.The chief Senate sponsors have agreed to the House version.

″The passage of this bill will allow us all to go home ... and say that we’ve made a major step toward protecting the health of young people throughout our country,″ said Rep. Mike Synar, D-Okla., a sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, said he hoped the labels would persuade teen-agers not to take up ″this filthy habit.″ He called snuff and chewing tobacco a ″very, very dangerous product.″

The bill was supported, reluctantly, by most of the tobacco industry as the most palatable alternative to a myriad of state labeling requirements.

Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., a tobacco industry supporter who blocked consideration of the bill last year, told the House on Monday he would not attempt to delay the bill although he still opposed it.

″What is going on in the various state legislatures regarding smokeless tobacco is an abomination,″ Bliley said. ″The chaotic situation with 50 different state labeling requirements (would be) far more injurious to commerce (than a federal law).″

The Smokeless Tobacco Council, a trade organization, helped draft the compromise bill, although executive director Michael Kerrigan said the industry still believes warning labels are unwarranted.

″Now that the Congress has decided there ought to be labels ... we agree the solution should be in a national, uniform law,″ he said.

The congressional action came as evidence mounts that youngsters are increasingly turning to snuff and chewing tobacco. Most recently, three studies just published in the American Journal of Public Health showed growing use of smokeless tobacco by students in Arkansas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.

Witnesses have told Waxman’s subcommittee that TV endorsements by athletes have led many teen-age boys to believe smokeless tobacco is a safe way to enjoy tobacco without risking health or athletic capability.

At the same time, however, medical researchers have in increasingly stronger language condemned snuff and chewing tobacco as increasing the risk of cancer of the mouth and throat.

A National Institutes of Health scientific panel, after hearing three days of testimony last month, issued a consensus statement declaring that ″convincing evidence″ links snuff and chewing tobacco with increased risk of oral cancer.

Other medical groups have issued similar pronouncements. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for one, issued a formal statement in December declaring that smokeless tobacco is ″a serious health hazard to children, adolescents and young adults ... a proven human carcinogen.″

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop is conducting a major study on the health effects of smokeless tobacco, similar to the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s report on smoking and health.

While that study is not scheduled for release until April 1, Koop said even before the study began that evidence clearly showed the health risks from snuff and chewing tobacco.

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