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Bill Would Put Tobacco Under FDA Control

A clause protects products now on the market, including many of these cigarettes at JR Tobacco Outlet in Selma, N.C.
A clause protects products now on the market, including many of these cigarettes at JR Tobacco Outlet in Selma, N.C. (By Gerry Broome -- Associated Press)

The legislation goes beyond current restrictions on tobacco marketing, which stem from a 1998 legal settlement between the attorneys general of 46 states and the tobacco industry.

The bill would also require regulators to review new tobacco products before they can be sold.

"Right now, there is no regulation of a deadly and dangerous product," said Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, one of more than 600 public health groups backing the bill. "Without FDA regulation, the tobacco industry is left to its own devices, and that's not in the best interest of the public health."

The bill, championed by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), has bipartisan support in both houses and backing from President Obama, himself a smoker who has struggled to quit. "The prospects are really good," said Dick Woodruff, director for federal affairs at the American Cancer Society's lobbying group. "This is the year."

Philip Morris USA, the biggest tobacco company in the nation and the maker of the best-selling Marlboro brand, supports the legislation, saying it would set uniform standards of quality, improve information for consumers and allow development of lower-risk tobacco products.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and other competitors, however, oppose the bill. They think that new restrictions on marketing and product development are likely to freeze market share, giving an unfair advantage to the industry leader, Philip Morris.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whose state is home to R.J. Reynolds, has threatened to filibuster the legislation when it reaches the Senate.

The FDA has tried in the past to regulate tobacco, most recently in 1996 when it asserted that cigarettes were medical devices and nicotine was a drug. Philip Morris and other tobacco companies sued, and the case was decided in 2000 by the Supreme Court, which found that Congress had not given the FDA authority over tobacco.


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