FDA Moves Closer to Tobacco Oversight

The federal government would for the first time have regulatory powers over the tobacco industry under a bill the House approved today after years of campaigning by anti-smoking forces. The measure, passed 298-112, gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate–but not ban–cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The Senate could take up its version of the bill later this month, and supporters have expressed confidence they can overcome expected resistance from tobacco-state senators, the Associated Press reported. The White House supports the legislation, a shift from the Bush administration which threatened to veto a House-passed measure last year.

The bill was sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) who in 1994 summoned the heads of big tobacco to a memorable hearing where they testified that nicotine was not addictive.

Waxman and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.,) have promoted legislation giving the FDA regulatory powers over tobacco products since the Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that the agency did not have that authority.

His bill wouldn’t let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco outright, but the agency would be able to regulate the contents of tobacco products, make public their ingredients, prohibit flavoring, require much larger warning labels and strictly control or prohibit marketing campaigns, especially those geared toward children.

Opponents from tobacco-growing states such as top-producing North Carolina argued that the FDA had proven through food safety failures that it’s not up to the job. They also said that instead of unrealistically trying to get smokers to quit or prevent them from starting, lawmakers should ensure they have other options, like smokeless tobacco, the AP reported.

That was the aim of an alternate bill offered by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) who would leave the FDA out and create a different agency within the Health and Human Services Department. His proposal failed on a 284-142 vote.

Buyer pointed out that Waxman’s bill is supported by the nation’s largest tobacco company, Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA. Officials at rival tobacco companies contend the Waxman bill could lock in Philip Morris’ market share.

Kennedy plans to introduce his version of the legislation after Congress returns from a recess later this month. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is expected to lead the opposition, but supporters are confident they can clear the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster, the report said.

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