Satcher Issues Report on Women and Tobacco, Thompson Supports FDA Oversight
U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report yesterday warning that tobacco-related diseases have taken a "grim toll" on women, prompting HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to express his "personal" support for allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco products, the Los Angeles Times reports (Cimons, Los Angeles Times, 3/28). According the 675-page report, titled "Women and Smoking," women today account for 39% of smoking-related deaths, a percentage that has "more than doubled" since 1965 (AP/Washington Times, 3/28). The report, the first on the effects of smoking among women since 1980, examined smoking rates among women, the effect of smoking on women's health, tobacco marketing targeting women and smoking prevention programs for girls and young women (Mitchell, Media General News Service/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/28).
Although smoking among women has "slow[ly]" declined since the 1960s, the report found that 165,000 women died prematurely in 1997 from smoking-related diseases, including cancer, heart and lung disease and stroke (Grady, New York Times, 3/28). Lung cancer deaths among women, "steeply rising" since the mid-1960s, surpassed breast cancer deaths about 10 years ago. In addition, women who smoke face "unique risks," such as menstrual problems, early menopause, lower fertility, low bone density and cervical cancer. However, "[p]erhaps most worrisome," the report revealed that the number of teenage girls who smoke "rose markedly" in the 1990s, "virtually erasing" the decline that began in the mid-1970s (Bor, Baltimore Sun, 3/28). Last year, a government survey found that 30% of high school senior girls said they had smoked in the previous month, an increase from the early 1990s (Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, 3/28). To combat the problem, the report urges a "new push" to fight smoking among women (Baltimore Sun, 3/28).
Meanwhile, Thompson, already "chided" by the White House for remarks he made last month about allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco, "repeat[ed] his own opinion" yesterday -- "much to the delight" of antismoking groups. "Speaking for myself, I think tobacco should be regulated," Thompson said, adding, "I have not discussed it with the White House." The Bush administration has not taken an official position on the issue (Los Angeles Times, 3/28). Thompson also said that he favors preventing tobacco companies from targeting children and teenagers with advertising, adding, "There's no question there's a constitutional right to free speech. There is no constitutional right to infringe on children" (Mitchell, Media General News Service/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/28).
Although Thompson did not endorse any of the four bills pending in Congress that would allow the FDA to regulate tobacco products, he said, "[W]hen Congress passes [such a bill], we will try to implement it, or we will implement it." Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "He was being careful, but he still said it. This is a very important step." He added, "The secretary has made it clear that ... (he wants) strong federal regulation of tobacco" (Los Angeles Times, 3/28). Myers concluded, "Our hope is that Secretary Thompson will support the type of broad, effective FDA authority over tobacco that has been endorsed by major public health organizations" (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids release, 3/27). In a related move, Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) proposed legislation to allow Medicare beneficiaries to receive smoking-cessation counseling and to fund antismoking drugs and other cessation therapy that would help low-income women enrolled in Medicaid to "kick the habit" (Neergaard, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/28).