House Approves FDA Tobacco Regulation BillApr 2, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to grant the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of tobacco products. According to The Wall Street Journal, the bill now moves to the Senate, where its passage is in no way assured. Senators from tobacco-producing states have vowed to fight the bill.
According to Bloomberg News, the measure passed 298-112. If it does become law, the FDA would have the authority to set nicotine levels in tobacco products. It also would put new curbs on flavored cigarettes and require new, larger warning labels on the front and back of cigarette packs. Under the law, the FDA could also prevent cigarettes from being advertised as "light", "low tar" and "mild", and could restrict cigarette advertising to simple black and white ads, The Wall Street Journal said.
The law was introduced in response to a Supreme Court decision from 2000 that said the FDA didn’t have the authority to regulate tobacco without an act of congress. Tobacco giant Philip Morris supports the legislation, but according to The New York Times, others in the industry are opposed.
Because of that, the bill could have a difficult time making it through the Senate. According to The New York Times, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, the nation’s leading tobacco producing state, has threatened a filibuster.
Similar legislation was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but it was never considered by the Senate. According to the Times, that legislation also faced filibuster threats, as well as a promise by President Bush to veto it.
But the new administration of President Barack Obama supports FDA oversight of tobacco. On Wednesday, the administration released a statement announcing that it backed the House bill.
"Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is a contributing factor to scores of diseases and conditions inflicting misery upon millions of our citizens,” the administration statement said. “Further, tobacco use is a major factor driving the increasing costs of health care in the U.S. and accounts for over a hundred billion dollars annually in financial costs to the economy.”
According to The New York Times, Senator Burr has introduced an alternative bill that would promote “reduced risk” tobacco products rather than cracking down on new and existing products.
But Democrats are opposed. They claim Burr's bill would not allow the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco, allow tobacco companies to target children and exempt smokeless tobacco from regulation.