Senate Passes Bill for FDA to Regulate Tobacco


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."

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