Bill Would Give FDA Broad Powers to Regulate Tobacco
Thursday, June 11, 2009; 3:24 PM
The Senate approved landmark legislation today that would give the government sweeping new power to oversee tobacco, a centuries-old product used by 20 percent of Americans yet largely unregulated in this country.
The bipartisan measure, approved by a margin of 79 to 17, largely mirrors a measure passed by the House last month. The House will now review the Senate's version before a bill is sent to President Obama, a smoker who has struggled to quit and who has said he is eager to sign the bill into law. It comes 50 years after the surgeon general first warned of the health effects of tobacco.
Congress has been trying for more than a decade to regulate tobacco, coming close several times but faltering in the face of opposition from the tobacco lobby, the White House or procedural hang-ups. But in the years that the debate has raged, changing social attitudes toward tobacco helped transform the idea of regulation from controversial to common sense.
"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. . . . For the first time we're going to make a difference. The FDA is going to regulate the production, sale and marketing of these products. That is history."
The legislation would give broad new authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco.
For the first time, the $89 billion tobacco industry would have to disclose the ingredients in its products. Under the new authority, the FDA could ban the most harmful of the estimated 6,000 chemicals used in cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. And it could reduce the amount of nicotine, perhaps to a point where tobacco is no longer addictive and smokers who want to quit can break free more easily. The legislation requires tobacco companies to expand the size of warning labels and include graphic images of the health effects of tobacco.
Advertising and promotion will also would be restricted. Tobacco manufacturers would be unable to use the terms "light," "mild" and "low" unless they can scientifically prove that the product so labeled is less harmful than standard tobacco. The bill would also create a tobacco center within the FDA funded by fees from the industry that are estimated to reach more than $500 million annually by 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office.