August 23, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 2
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Panel urges tighter tobacco regulation to fight cancer

Kevin Freking

WASHINGTON — To aid the nation’s fight against cancer, the federal government should increase taxes on tobacco products and strictly regulate the sales and marketing of tobacco, says an advisory panel to the president.

Both recommendations, part of a report released last Thursday, place the panel at odds with President Bush.

The administration’s position is that tax increases to fund spending increases are inadvisable. Also, giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco could give consumers the impression that the government was giving an unsafe product its stamp of approval, the administration has argued.

Established in 1971, the three-member President’s Cancer Panel is charged with monitoring the nation’s efforts to eliminate cancer and meets at least four times a year.

This year’s report is longer and more far-reaching than past reports, which customarily focus on one aspect of cancer. This report looked at the impact of both obesity and smoking on cancer.

The panel noted that 2007 brought about the steepest decline in cancer deaths ever reported. Yet, more than a half million Americans will die from cancer this year, and nearly two-thirds of those deaths could have been avoided through changes in lifestyle.

The panel said efforts to reduce cancer are often compromised by government policies that decrease the availability of healthy foods and limit physical education.

To reverse those trends, schools should reinstate physical education at meaningful levels from kindergarten through a student’s senior year of high school, the panel said, saying that schools should also replace unhealthy foods in cafeterias and vending machines.

While few segments of society were spared from a critical review, the focus on tobacco in this year’s report was particularly intense.

“The panel recommends foremost that the influence of the tobacco industry — particularly on America’s children — be weakened through strict Federal regulation of tobacco products and marketing,” their letter to the president said.

The panel’s members include noted African American cancer surgeon Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., seven-time Tour de France-winning cyclist Lance Armstrong and Margaret L. Kripke of the University of Texas. They called on lawmakers to have the “political will” to change policies contributing to obesity and tobacco use.

Among the changes lawmakers should undertake are a refusal to accept campaign donations from the tobacco industry.

From January 2001 through August 2006, tobacco-affiliated political action committee contributions were accepted by 321 of the 533 politicians serving in Congress at this time last year, according to a report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington-based advocacy group. There were 93 Democrats and 228 Republicans.

State and local officials should also work to curb smoking, the panel said. For example, all public schools and universities should be smoke-free. And, programs financed by the states, such as Medicaid and state correctional units, should offer programs that help people stop smoking.

AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this report from Atlanta.

(Associated Press)

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