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Health and Consumer Groups Slam Senate Bill 981’s

Sept. 18, 1998

Health and Consumer Groups Slam Senate Bill 981’s
Effect on Tobacco Control, Patients Rights and Food Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Broad new opposition surfaced this week to Senate Bill 981, the regulatory rollback bill. Public health, consumer, tobacco control and food safety groups sent letters to all senators detailing the harmful effects the legislation would have on their constituencies.

“This has been a corporate special interests’ dream bill,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “The action has been mostly behind closed doors. People are only now becoming aware of just how broad and devastating its impact would be.”

S. 981, sponsored by Sens. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), would tie up federal agencies charged with protecting public health, worker safety, food safety, environmental quality and civil rights in red tape and legal uncertainty, delaying and weakening their ability to issue strong safeguards. Its “regulatory obstacle course” of risk assessment, cost-benefit analysis, net cost-benefit determination and “conflict of interest” peer review would tilt the playing field toward protecting industry profits rather than the public.

“Managed care reform legislation faces powerful opponents in the legislative process. S. 981 would allow these opponents to take a second shot at blocking or weakening whatever Congress has passed in the regulatory process,” wrote 21 groups active in the fight for Patients Bill of Rights legislation. Signers include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AIDS Action Council, Center on Disability and Health, Committee for Children, Consumer Federation of America, Families U.S.A., National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The major food safety groups, including Center for Science in the Public Interest, S.T.O.P. (Safe Tables Our Priority) and Consumers Union wrote senators that “Now we are confronted with another threat to strong food safety protections: S. 981, the so-called ‘Regulatory Improvement Act of 1998.’ S. 981 would essentially build a food safety regulatory system based on an ‘acceptable’ level of food-borne illness and death through net cost-benefit determinations. It would lengthen, not shorten, the regulatory process and give the regulated industries themselves first crack at blocking a proposed rule by subjecting it to an unbalanced peer review panel.”

“This bill is tailor made for Big Tobacco,” said John Garrison, CEO of the American Lung Association. “It would give industry-paid ‘experts’ closed door access to regulators. Strong public health protections — like tough rules to stop tobacco advertising aimed at kids — would never see the light of day if S. 981 becomes law.”

More than 50 public health groups joined Public Citizen, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association in writing to the Senate to explain how S. 981 would impede FDA regulations to protect children from smoking.

“The big business backers of this misleadingly titled bill would like to keep its real impact quiet so that it can be slipped into ‘must pass’ legislation at the end of session,” Claybrook said. “But these letters from health care, food safety and public health activists show that their stealth campaign isn’t working. This is a bill that can’t stand up to scrutiny in the light of day.”