Senate Approves Bill to Allow FDA Regulation of Tobacco

FILE -- In this Jan. 9, 2009 file photo, Sen. Dick Durbin, talks with reporters during a news conference in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
FILE -- In this Jan. 9, 2009 file photo, Sen. Dick Durbin, talks with reporters during a news conference in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File) (Nam Y. Huh - AP)
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 2009

Landmark legislation approved by the Senate yesterday will give the federal government sweeping new powers to oversee tobacco products, allowing regulators to control factors including the amount of addictive nicotine in a cigarette and how that cigarette is packaged and marketed.

For the 20 percent of Americans who smoke, the law will mean confronting more graphic warnings of the risks of their habit every time they pick up a pack. The law also bans most cigarette flavorings.

For the $89 billion tobacco industry, it will mean new requirements to disclose the ingredients in cigarettes and other tobacco products, and severe limitations on how they are advertised and promoted. The government could also issue new rules on nicotine content, flavorings and other product features.

Many of the new restrictions are aimed at preventing children from starting to smoke. Cherry and other fruit flavorings that appeal to children will be banned, along with marketing aimed at younger smokers, such as the use of Joe Camel and other cartoon characters.

The 79 to 17 vote virtually ensured that the bill will become law. The measure now goes to the House, which passed a nearly identical version in April and could take a final vote today. President Obama, himself a smoker who has struggled to quit, has said he will sign it.

Congress has been battling for more than a decade over regulating tobacco, coming close several times but faltering in the face of opposition from the tobacco lobby or the White House or procedural hang-ups. But over the years, changing social attitudes toward smoking have helped transform the idea of regulation from controversial to common sense.

"There's been a fundamental sea change in attitudes about tobacco in both the Congress and the public," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which led a coalition of more than 1,000 public health and faith organizations that supported the legislation. "A bill this broad, comprehensive, this strong would have been unimaginable even five years ago."

The legislation, which comes 50 years after the surgeon general first warned about the health effects of tobacco, gives broad new authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products.

"Miracles still happen," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), said in a statement. Kennedy, who had worked for years to push the bill forward, is battling brain cancer and missed yesterday's vote. "The United States Senate has finally said 'no' to Big Tobacco."

On the Senate floor, lawmakers took turns detailing their personal struggles with tobacco.

"There's not a smoker in the country that's an adult who wishes their children would begin smoking," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), himself a former smoker. "And there are many adult smokers today who wish they never started. . . . This has been a very long battle."

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whose state is home to the R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard tobacco companies, tried to kill the measure, arguing that the FDA cannot handle additional duties. But in the end, he could not gather enough support for a filibuster. His colleague from North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan, was the only Democrat to vote against the bill.

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