The Round-Up provides a sterling example of why Congress needs to stick to its guns and give the Food and Drug Administration legislative authority to regulate tobacco.

Tobacco companies distribute hundreds of free cans of chew during Round-Up. Rodeos provide the perfect backdrop for trying to get people hooked on the stuff, since it's so prevalent among cowboys and can play off the macho image of the Old West.

Legally, recipients of free snuff must be at least 21, but there's nothing stopping people from sharing their bounty with underage acquaintances. Such giveaways, along with cigarette samples packaged in colorful bags with photos of beautiful and youthful smokers, clearly target young people. The national tobacco agreement of more than a decade ago included a provision that tobacco companies would cease marketing to underage potential customers. That simply hasn't happened.

Another tactic used by tobacco companies to lure youthful customers who represent a lifetime of income through addiction is to market new, hip flavors in both chew and cigarettes. RJ Reynolds is now pushing cigarettes flavors that include Kauai Kolada, Margarita Mixer, Beach Breezer, Bayou Blast and Mandarin Mint. Other companies offer vanilla, wintergreen, coconut and strawberry flavors. How thoughtful, now you can enjoy an ambrosia of cancer-causing smokes and chews.

Of course, there's nothing amusing about 6,760 deaths in Oregon in 2000 directly attributed to tobacco, and health care costs and lost productivity in the state estimated at $1.8 billion annually.

It's long past time for Congress to throw off the shackles of tobacco company campaign contributions and vote their consciences. A Senate bill soon to be in conference committee would provide FDA regulation of tobacco and fund a tobacco grower buyout with industry money (the House bill includes no FDA oversight and would have the taxpayers pay for the buyout).

The fact that a known cancer-causing substance that kills more than 400,000 Americans each year and costs the nation more than $75 billion in health care costs is not regulated - while a box of macaroni is - remains one of the great paradoxes of American society. You can look on the side of that macaroni box and learn just what the product includes. You can't do that with cigarettes or chew. If you could it would show substances like formaldehyde (embalming fluid), cadmium (used in car batteries) and uranium 235 (used in nuclear weapons).

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith of Pendleton is on the conference committee that will hopefully come up with a tobacco regulation bill that both houses can agree on. Now would be a good time to urge him to stand strong for FDA control over a product that kills people when used just as its manufacturers intend.

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