House Passes Tobacco Regulation Bill

Congress sent legislation to the White House on Friday that gives the federal government vast new powers to regulate and restrict cigarettes. Video by AP
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 13, 2009

By a ratio of 3 to 1, the House of Representatives yesterday approved the Senate version of a bill that gives the federal government sweeping new powers to regulate tobacco.

"This is the day when Americans can begin to truly kick the habit, with the full force of our laws marshaled to protect consumers, and especially our young people," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a key sponsor of the House version of the bill.

The House had already passed a nearly identical version of the bill in April, but it needed to ratify the Senate's action and did so by a vote of 307 to 97.

President Obama, himself a smoker who has struggled to quit, congratulated lawmakers. "We've known for years, even decades, about the harmful, addictive and often deadly effects of tobacco products," he said. "Each year, Americans pay nearly $100 billion in added health-care costs due to smoking. Each day, about 1,000 young people under the age of 18 become regular smokers."

The legislation gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the advertising, marketing and manufacturing of tobacco products. Tobacco is used by one in five Americans, yet it is one of the least-regulated consumer products. Pet food and cosmetics are more heavily controlled by the government.

For smokers, the law will mean confronting graphic warnings of the risks of their habit every time they pick up a pack, and possible changes to the formulations of cigarettes and cigars. The law is aimed particularly at young people, by banning the use of cherry and other flavorings as well as advertising that uses cartoon characters like Joe the Camel.

The $89 billion tobacco industry will be required to disclose the ingredients in cigarettes and other tobacco products and will face severe limitations on how they are advertised and promoted.

The legislation stops short of allowing the FDA to prohibit tobacco or to eliminate nicotine, the addictive drug in tobacco.

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

Staff writer William Branigin contributed to this report.

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