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FDA Could Have Power to Restrict Tobacco Ads

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In a 298-112 vote, the House passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act yesterday, a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the tobacco industry, according to an Associated Press report.

Under the bill, the FDA could not ban tobacco outright, but would have the power to block or approve new products, regulate products' ingredients and restrict advertising and marketing, as well as require larger warnings on packages. Flavored tobacco products would be restricted, with the preliminary exception of menthol, until a study on the additive is conducted. It would also require the FDA to set up a new Center for Tobacco Products, and its operations would be financed with fees paid by the tobacco industry, based on market share, according to reports published ahead of the passage.

During debate on the bill Wednesday evening, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a main sponsor of the legislation, said, "We’ve come to what I hope will be an historic occasion, and that is finally doing something about the harm that tobacco does to thousands and thousands of Americans who die each year, and stopping the attempt to get our children to smoke. It has taken us far too long to get to this point.”

The House rejected an amendment by Republican Steve Buyer of Indiana to set up a government office other than the FDA to oversee tobacco and to promote smokeless tobacco products, the New York Times reported. Buyer argued the existing legislation would make it difficult for the FDA to approve new smokeless products and help smokers reduce their risk of disease.

The Senate could take up its version of the bill later this month. Supporters are confident they can get Senate passage and President Barack Obama's signature on the bill, the AP reported. However, a closer battle is predicted in the Senate between public health advocates and some tobacco industry supporters, according to a report by The New York Times, as Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.) has threatened a filibuster.

A prime sponsor of the Senate legislation, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D.-Mass.), plans to introduce a version of the House bill later this month after a two-week congressional recess, the Times reported.

"The House’s quick action gives the Senate plenty of time to act this year," Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the newspaper.

In the Senate, Burr introduced an alternative bill to promote "reduced risk” tobacco products rather than cracking down on new and existing products.

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