House Says FDA Can Restrict Tobacco Ads

NEW YORK 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.

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 Waxman, D-Calif., and 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 Steve Buyer, R.- Indiana, to set up a government office other than the FDA to oversee tobacco and to promote smokeless tobacco products, per media reports. 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. 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 Burr, R-N.C., has threatened a filibuster.

A prime sponsor of the Senate legislation, Edward 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 Times.

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

Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group, provided key support for the bill, arguing FDA oversight would create a stable framework to allow companies to make reduced risk products, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Most other tobacco companies, though, including Lorillard Inc., oppose the bill. They argue the legislation would allow Philip Morris, the largest cigarette maker in the U.S., to cement its lead.

Upon passage of the bill, Lorillard Tobacco, the third largest cigarette maker in the U.S., issued a statement expressing its disappointment. The company said it “remains committed to supporting reasonable regulation of tobacco products,” but noted regulation should be granted to an agency that can handle the new responsibility.

“Thrusting a completely new industry onto the FDA for it to oversee will further burden an agency that is already struggling to meet its core mission to protect America’s food and drugs at precisely the time when Americans need to rely on it the most,” the company said.

The tobacco company also stated the current bill would “create insurmountable barriers” for the tobacco industry to develop and market reduced-harm products.

The passage of the bill comes one day after the largest tax increase on tobacco took effect, from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack of cigarettes. The overnight increase shocked tobacco users across the country, some into quitting the habit.