WASHINGTON In a 79-17 vote yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill giving the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over the tobacco industry.
The vote sends the measure back to the House, which passed a similar version in April. If the House accepts the Senate version, then the bill would go directly to President Barack Obama, who supports the action. (Note: another industry media outlet reported the bill was on its way to the president already.)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the AP: “From what I have seen so far, I believe it will be possible for us to accept their bill and send it right on to the president.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would give the FDA the authority to restrict and change the sale, marketing and production of tobacco products to protect the public health. It could not ban nicotine outright, but would ban the use of terms on products such as “light” and “mild.” The FDA could also restrict tobacco marketing; require pre-market approval of new tobacco products; ban flavored tobacco products; limit ads in publications with significant teen readership; and impose stronger warning labels on cigarette packages.
A new FDA office would likely be created and financed through a user fee paid by tobacco companies, based on share of market, the AP reported.
Lawmakers, with the support of anti-smoking groups, have been trying to pass similar legislation for a decade, but bills ran into resistance from the tobacco industry and the Bush administration, the AP reported.
This year, however, the president supports it and it came with the support of the country’s biggest tobacco company, Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris USA.
In a statement regarding the passage, Philip Morris’ parent company, Altria Group, said: “We think today’s vote by the U.S. Senate is an important step forward on this legislation. For more than eight years, Altria Group has supported tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration.”
The company acknowledged the bill is not perfect, though, noting its concerns over First Amendment reservations on certain provisions that could restrict a manufacturer’s ability to “communicate truthful information to adult consumers about tobacco products.”
The second- and third-largest tobacco companies — R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard — opposed it, arguing restrictions on new tobacco products will lock in Philip Morris’ share of the market.
“It is a lifesaving act for the millions of children who will be spared a lifetime of addiction and premature death,” said Kennedy in a statement.
Also before the vote, the Senate rejected in a 60-36 vote Tuesday an alternative bill to the FDA legislation, which would have created a department within the Health and Human Services agency to control tobacco products, and focus more on developing reduced harm products.
The alternative bill was offered by the two senators from North Carolina, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan. The pair argues the FDA was the wrong agency for the job, and that giving it broad powers to decide what ingredients can go into cigarettes would hamper the development of safer tobacco products.