PENDLETON - The quest for tobacco regulation legislation provides a prime example of why conference committees are so vital in Congress:
The U.S. Senate has approved legislation that would grant the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco products and pay for a tobacco grower buyout with money from the cigarette industry.
The House bill provides for no such FDA authority and would fund the grower buyout with taxes.
Enter the conference committee, of which Sen. Gordon Smith of Pendleton is a member. However, Chris Matthews, Smith's press secretary, said that the House has not yet named its committee members.
"We're hoping it will be soon," Matthews said, noting that it's now up to the House when negotiations begin.
Umatilla County Community Health Educator Janet Jones and Dana Kaye, the regional advocacy coordinator for the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Oregon, aren't as interested in the timing as the outcome. They are adamant that the Senate version is better for the health of millions of Americans and for the country's taxpayers.
"This was an historic vote," Kaye said of the Senate version, which passed 78-15. "We want to make sure that the language stays the same."
Under the Senate version, Kaye said the FDA would be able to clamp down on tobacco companies who market to children as well as require packaging labels with stricter labeling, including a list of ingredients in tobacco products.
"Tobacco is one of the few products that don't have ingredients listed on the label," Jones said. It's easy to see why the companies don't want that, because the ingredients include chemicals like formaldehyde and uranium 235 in addition to nicotine, she added.
The FDA regulation also could eventually compel tobacco companies to release to the public the results of any studies they mount involving their products.
Jones, as the health educator for the county, said she fights a never-ending battle to sway young people away from tobacco products, which is made even more difficult with the multi-million dollar advertising campaigns the tobacco companies are able to mount.
She is especially concerned about the new flavored tobacco products that are coming onto the market. Camel's flavored offerings include Twista Lime, Bayou Blast, Mandarin Mint and Kauai Kolada, while Midnight Berry and Caribbean Chill are two of the Kool Smooth Fusions line. Skoal is expanding its flavored chewing tobaccos as well, including flavors like Vanilla, Apple Blend and Berry Blend.
"Tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of death in Umatilla County, Oregon and the nation," Jones said. "The effects of tobacco cost Umatilla County $41 million every single year."