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November 11, 2011


Washington Letter
November 11, 2011
Newsletter of the American Thoracic Society's Washington Office

1150 18th Street NW
Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone:(202) 296-9770


Court Stops Tobacco Graphic Warnings

This week U.S District Court Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction to stop the Food and Drug Administration from moving forward with requiring graphic warning labels on tobacco products. In granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Leon indicated that he felt the tobacco industry would likely win its case against the FDA once the case went to trial. 

While unwelcomed, Judge Leon’s decision was not a surprise to tobacco control advocates. Judge Leon had previously made several court decisions favorable to the tobacco industry. A separate federal court has also heard a case on the FDA’s power to require graphic warning labels and decided in the FDA’s favor.

The ATS strongly disagrees with Judge Leon’s decision. In 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which granted the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products and explicitly required that 50 percent of cigarette packages be covered in graphic warnings. The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 79-17 and passed the House by a vote of 298-112. Despite this broad bipartisan support, Judge Leon stands in the way of moving forward with this important health message.

In a press release, ATS President Nicholas Hill, MD, stated, “as physicians and health professionals who treat patients with tobacco-caused lung disease, we know firsthand the physical pain and emotional suffering tobacco causes in our patients. We also know that the vast majority of smokers started when they were children. Both our law and culture recognize that children are often not equipped to understand the health risks of using tobacco.

“Judge Leon’s decision removes an effective tobacco prevention tool, and it will allow big tobacco to continue to lure children into tobacco addiction and to keep adults addicted. Only the big tobacco companies and their shareholders will benefit from this decision. The ATS encourages the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Justice to appeal this decision.”


Senate Rejects Bill to Stop Clean Air Act Rule

This week, the Senate rejected by a vote of 56-41 an amendment offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that would have blocked EPA rules requiring 28 states to reduce the amount of air pollution they export to neighboring states. 

The rule, known as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), will require coal‐fired power plants in 28 states to reduce the amount of emissions containing particulate matter and ozone that is exported to neighboring states. Both ozone and particulate matter can lead to asthma attacks, emergency room visits, heart attacks, hospitalizations and premature death. People with lung disease, including children with asthma, are especially vulnerable to the air pollution emitted from coal‐fired power plants.

When fully implemented in 2014, the EPA estimates that CSAPR will prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths, 400,000 asthma attacks, 15,000 heart attacks and 19,000 hospital visits each year. More than 240 million people will benefit from CSAPR, including those at particular risk for the harmful health effects of smog and soot. Children, senior citizens and people who work or exercise outdoors, as well as those who have chronic diseases, are at the greatest health risk from these pollutants.


NIH Releases Sleep Disorders Research Plan

This week, the NIH set a new agenda for sleep and circadian research with the release of its Sleep Disorders Research Plan. The plan, an update to the 2003 sleep research agenda, aims to generate new strategies for the prevention and treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea, as well as sleep deficiency and environmental disruption of circadian functions. Coordinated through the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research, the plan was developed with input from eight other NIH institutes and offices, including the National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Mental Health, and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and public representatives on the Sleep Disorders Research Advisory Board.

The ATS was a key contributor in the drafting of the plan. Atul Malhotra, MD, past chair of the Sleep and Neurorespiratory Biology Assembly and former ATS Board of Directors member said, "I welcome this plan, which will chart a new course for the direction of sleep and circadian research. I am pleased that our Assembly played an important role in the development of this plan by forging consensus among the key opinion leaders on sleep and circadian research within our society." Dr. Malhotra continued, "We strongly support the plan's recommendations, particularly as they pertain to issues related to sleep and respiration and the need to attract new investigators into the field. We look forward to working with the NHLBI and other institutes to implement it."

In the plan, NIH articulates a series of five main goals for advancing sleep and circadian research and recommends increased investigation in a number of other areas. The institutes call for more study of the genetics of sleep and of the developmental processes affecting sleep, from perinatal development through adolescence, adulthood and aging. The plan also emphasizes the need to expand the sleep research workforce to respond to sleep research needs. The plan’s five main goals for advancing sleep and circadian science are to:

  • Advance the understanding of sleep and circadian functions and of basic sleep and circadian mechanisms, in both the brain and the body, across the lifespan;
  • Identify genetic, pathophysiological, environmental, cultural, lifestyle factors and sex and gender differences contributing to the risk of sleep and circadian disorders and disturbances, and examine their role in the development and pathogenesis of co-morbid diseases, and disability;
  • Improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of sleep and circadian disorders, chronic sleep deficiency, and circadian disruption, and evaluate the resulting impact on human health;
  • Enhance the translation and dissemination of sleep and circadian research findings and concepts to improve health care, inform public policy, and increase community awareness to enhance human health; and
  • Enable sleep and circadian research training to inform science in cross-cutting domains and toaccelerate the pace of discovery and the translation of enhanced therapies from bench to bedside to community.

The NIH Sleep Disorders Research Plan can be viewed online at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/sleep/index.htm



The Washington Letter is written by the American Thoracic Society government relations office and emailed to all ATS members living in the United States. The letter keeps clinicians, scientists, and patients abreast of legislative, judicial, and regulatory issues in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine. Each week's edition is archived on the ATS Web site, www.thoracic.org. If you have any questions or one more information about becoming involved in advocacy, please contact the ATS Washington office at 202-296-9770.