Tobacco Control Bill Makes Government More Powerful

June 12, 2009 - 4:13 AM
House vote could send FDA tobacco bill to Obama

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed legislation that for the first time would give the FDA new powers to control the production and marketing of tobacco products. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Washington (AP) - Smoking foes see a turning point in their long battle against the tobacco industry as Congress prepares to send President Barack Obama a bill giving the government broad authority to determine how cigarettes will be made, marketed and sold.
 
The House was scheduled to vote Friday on legislation, passed just a day before by the Senate, that for the first time would put the Food and Drug Administration in charge of regulating cigarettes and other tobacco products.
 
The measure puts special emphasis on dissuading some of the 3,500 young people who every day smoke a cigarette for the first time. The FDA would ban use of candied and other flavored tobacco used to entice young smokers, stop advertising that targets children, make it harder for underaged youth to buy cigarettes, require stronger warning labels and bar use of expressions such as "light" or "mild" that suggest that those brands are less harmful.
 
The FDA would also require tobacco companies to reveal the contents of their products and seek approval for marketing new products. It gives the FDA power to order changes to ingredients, including tar and nicotine, to protect public health.
 
The greater goal is to reduce the 400,000 deaths every year attributed to smoking and shrink the annual $100 billion health care price tag for tobacco-related illnesses.
 
"This long-overdue legislation will protect kids and reduce the terrible human and financial burden caused by tobacco use in this country," said Paul Billings, vice president of the American Lung Association.
 
Obama, who has spoken of his own struggle to quit smoking, praised the bill, saying it "will make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps."
 
Lawmakers, led by the ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., have been fighting for more than a decade to impose government controls over cigarettes only to meet strong resistance from the tobacco industry and others. The Supreme Court in 2000 said the FDA did not have authority to regulate tobacco under current law, and the George W. Bush administration opposed congressional efforts to rewrite the law.
 
The industry, said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who guided the bill to a 79-17 vote in the Senate on Thursday, had long succeeded in excluding itself from federal regulation. "That now changes forever," he said.
 
"Passage of this historic legislation by both the House and the Senate is a victory for public health over Big Tobacco," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association.
 
The House passed a similar bill in April. On Friday it is to vote on minor changes made by the Senate.
 
Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, issued a statement Thursday supporting the legislation and saying it approved "tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products" by the FDA. Rival companies have voiced opposition, saying FDA limits on new tobacco products could lock in market shares for Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes.
 
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The bill is H.R. 1256.