House Votes to Let FDA Regulate Tobacco Industry

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008

The House approved legislation yesterday that would for the first time empower the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry, a measure long sought by anti-smoking advocates.

After about 40 minutes of sometimes passionate debate, the House voted 326 to 102 to approve the measure, which would give the agency broad authority over cigarette makers, including the power to ban marketing of cigarettes to children, require disclosure of tobacco ingredients and mandate larger, more specific health warnings. It would also enable the agency to require tobacco companies to reduce or eliminate harmful ingredients and ban candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes.

The White House has signaled that President Bush will veto the legislation if it is approved by the Senate, which may not have a veto-proof majority in support of it.

"This is truly an historic day in the fight against tobacco," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored the measure with Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). "Regulating tobacco is the single most important thing that we can do right now to protect the public health of all Americans, especially our children."

Proponents hailed the approval as a historic and crucial step in the effort to drive down smoking rates in the United States.

"The tobacco industry has thrived on the business of addiction for decades by turning children into tobacco users with slick marketing tactics and misleading the public about the harms of its deadly products," said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

While the measure is supported by Philip Morris USA -- the nation's biggest cigarette maker -- it is opposed by the rest of the tobacco industry.

Administration officials argue that tobacco regulation would be too much of a burden for the already stretched FDA. In addition, officials have expressed concern that it could jeopardize international trade agreements by banning some imported cigarettes.

"The administration supports efforts to encourage adults who smoke to choose to quit and to prevent children from ever using tobacco products," the White House said in a statement.

But "in seeking to limit the harm imposed by tobacco on the American public, the bill will unfortunately undermine one of the nation's premier public health and regulatory institutions and potentially lead the public to mistakenly conclude some tobacco products are safe," the statement said.

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