Worried about dangerous chemicals? Regulate cigarettes

May 24, 2010

In their op-ed "Rethinking chemical safety" (May 23), Brenda Afzal and Jenny Levin appropriately alert us to the health risks related to chemicals in our environment. However, they might have also included the biggest proven chemical danger to our health, namely cigarettes. In their article they discuss many of the most hazardous chemicals in our food, water, air and consumer products but failed to mention the dangers of cigarettes and tobacco smoke, which contain about 4,000 chemicals, at least 50 of which are known to cause cancer.

As reported, the President's Cancer Panel is recommending regulation of chemicals that may cause cancer, and several congressman have introduced legislation that could effectively keep harmful chemicals out of our environment. Why not include cigarettes in this legislation? The FDA, under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, already has the power to control tobacco products. While cigarette sales generate $19 billion dollars in tax revenues each year, the health-related costs of smoking are enormous — at least 450,000 deaths each year and about $100 billion dollars in direct health-related costs.

It is regrettable when lobbyists, special interest groups and money drive decisions that are not in the best interest of the country, but it is shameful when these special interests drive decisions that so directly impact our health. In the context of health care reform, $100 billion dollars of averted health care costs related to cigarettes would be a true win-win situation.

Dr. Beryl Rosenstein, Baltimore

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