DURHAM — In North Carolina, nearly 12,000 children a year become regular smokers. In our state alone, we spend more than $2.46 billion on health care costs directly caused by smoking. Each year 12,200 people die from tobacco-related causes of illness -- the leading cause of preventable death in our state.
The faith community simply cannot ignore this tragedy, because we spend too much time burying mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who die because they became addicted to tobacco products when they were young.
Now Congress has a historic opportunity to protect children and save lives. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act legislation would give the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products and their marketing. While this legislation would help protect all Americans from the ravages of tobacco, it includes specific provisions to protect our nation's children from this deadly addiction.
Among other things, the legislation would ban outdoor advertising near schools, remove advertising with colorful pictures that appeal to children from stores and from magazines with high youth readership, and put larger, more effective warning labels on the cigarette packs themselves. Unfortunately, U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan have introduced an alternate bill that fails to provide the resources needed for effective regulation and includes so many restrictions, loopholes and hurdles that it will make it difficult, if not impossible, to effectively regulate tobacco products.
Conversely, the Waxman/ Platts bill puts the health of our families ahead of the profits of the tobacco companies. It provides strong, effective restrictions on advertising and marketing of tobacco products to children -- and we know that a lifetime of addiction almost always starts in the teenage years. In fact, 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking as teens. Any attempt to limit the national epidemic of tobacco addiction must begin with children.
By passing the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, Congress can take a major step to protect our children and reduce the terrible toll of tobacco on our community. North Carolina's Burr and Hagan should do the right thing and support the Waxman/ Platts bill, which puts protecting families above protecting tobacco companies.
Rev. Brian W. Wingo is minister of the Pleasant Green United Methodist Church in Durham. He is also chairperson of the Board of Church and Society for the N.C. Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.