Magazine article The Nation's Health

Tobacco Regulation, Mental Health Parity Back on Congress' Agenda

Magazine article The Nation's Health

Tobacco Regulation, Mental Health Parity Back on Congress' Agenda

Article excerpt

Public health issues that have found themselves waiting in the wings in Congress in recent years--such as tobacco regulation, mental health parity and food safety regulation--are once again back in the spotlight.

Legislators have taken up a flurry of bills aimed at improving the nation's health in recent months, embracing everything from contraception and antibiotic use to screenings for newborn health and cervical cancer. Many of the bills are new versions of legislation that had been introduced in previous sessions of Congress and have been supported by APHA.

Among the measures receiving strong bipartisan interest is legislation that would grant the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco. In February, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., introduced the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, known in the Senate as S. 623 and in the House as H.R. 1108. The bill would give FDA the authority to treat tobacco as a drug, allowing the agency to take actions such as preventing tobacco advertising that targets children, controlling the sale of tobacco to minors, regulating tobacco health claims and helping smokers overcome their addictions.

While similar versions of the tobacco legislation were proposed in previous sessions of Congress--even passing the full Senate with overwhelming support in 2004 before sputtering in the House--"in this new Congress, the likelihood of passage is greatly enhanced," said Kennedy as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor.

Also returning to the congressional agenda is legislation that would unite all of the nation's food safety responsibilities under a single agency. While the current U.S. system spreads food safety between 15 agencies that include FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Commerce Department, the Safe Food Act would create one food safety administration that would be responsible for all U.S. food monitoring, inspection and labeling.

The move is designed to cut down on foodborne illness, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sickens about 76 million people in the United States each year.

The Safe Food Act is sponsored in the Senate as S. 654 by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and in the House as H.R. 1148 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

Additionally receiving renewed legislative interest is the drive to improve health insurance coverage for mental health services, also known as parity. …

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