This has been distributed on the Internet as an anonymous statement from Donna Shalala regarding the Supreme Court decision to disallow the FDA to regulate tobacco. Inasmuch as the authenticity has not been verified, our apologies to Ms. Shalala if she has been misrepresented.
RE: Not Letting Your Futures Go Up In Smoke
DATE: April 1, 2000
Since I'm usually not in the business of giving political advice, I decided I'd better write this memo under deep cover. As you know, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Food & Drug Administration does not have the authority to regulate tobacco.
But all nine justices did acknowledge what most people have known for years, "that tobacco use, particularly among children and adolescents, poses perhaps the single most significant threat to public health in the United States."
So this is the perfect chance for Congress to step into the breach and rescue thousands of children from premature death. In anybody's book, that is a political winner.
But remember, you didn't hear it from me.
Why should Congress pick up the flag that the Supreme Court has forced the FDA to leave on the battlefield? To begin with, there is overwhelming public support for the kind of administrative oversight called for in the FDA rule.
In a 1998 poll, 91 percent of Americans said the FDA should be able to force disclosure of tobacco ingredients, and 89 percent said the FDA should be able to regulate the amount of these harmful ingredients.
Secondly, because of the court's ruling, and notwithstanding the tobacco settlement with the states, we're in danger of returning to the bad old days of advertising aimed at children, vending machine sales and no enforcement power to police sales to minors.
So Congress can and should move quickly to enact legislation giving FDA the authority it needs to protect our children. And there's no need to reinvent the wheel. As you know, 57 Senators - both Republicans and Democrats - supported the bipartisan McCain-Frist bill that would stop the endless progression of kids getting hooked on tobacco products - and dying early from tobacco use. All you have to do is bring it up for a vote again this year.
Why should the Congressional leadership support such a move? Simple. Every day, 3,000 young people become regular smokers and 1,000 will die from their addiction. More than 80 percent of adult smokers started smoking before they were 18.
Lung cancer now kills more women than breast cancer, and heart disease is the No. 1 killer among both women and men. Overall, more than 400,000 Americans die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.
These are not the kinds of numbers that should make you shy away from tackling an important issue. There are far more people who don't smoke than do. And then there are all the soccer moms. Their children are being exposed to all kinds of deadly risks. Parents don't want excuses. They want action - and they're going to vote for leaders who offer that action.
Don't take my word for it. Ask the millions of independents that are up for grabs this election. You can address their concerns about special interests quickly and easily by authorizing the FDA to regulate the content of cigarettes, requiring better warning labels and imposing financial penalties for failing to reduce teen smoking.
There is plenty of precedent for Congress to act. In 1965, Congress required warnings on every pack of cigarettes sold in the United States. Every Republican in the Senate that voted supported the law. In 1969, Congress banned cigarette ads from television and radio, again with strong Republican support.
In 1983, Congress - with the Senate in Republican hands - required the secretary of Health and Human Services to report every three years on the addictive property of tobacco. One year later, Congress required tougher warning labels.
Two years after that - with Republicans still in control of the Senate - Congress required warning labels for smokeless tobacco. In giving the FDA broad authority to regulate tobacco, Congress will be following a well-established and bipartisan tradition.
If Congress passes FDA regulation this spring, you can go into the convention season - and the fall election - making a credible argument that you have acted to save the lives of America's future: children.
Tobacco doesn't have to be a partisan issue. But like I said: You didn't hear it from me.
Donna Shalala, a.k.a. Anonymous, is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.