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House Votes to Let FDA Regulate Tobacco

Mar 5, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might soon be given the power to oversee the tobacco industry, reported Reuters.  If pending legislation passes, the FDA would be able to regulate tobacco products, including cigarettes and even advertisements and product designs.  Still in proposal stage, the move in a 39 to 13 House vote and now requires Senate approval before being presented to President Barack Obama, said Reuters.

The FDA oversees human and animal medicines, medical devices, many foods, and cosmetics and could be adding the multi-billion dollar industry if the proposal makes it through the Senate.  "Regulating tobacco is the single most important thing that we can do right now to curb the deadly toll of tobacco," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Democratic Representative Henry Waxman, quoted Reuters.  Waxman introduced the bill, which passed in the House, but not in the Senate, last year.

According to Reuters, Democrats said the bill would enable federal oversight of an industry linked to a wide variety of costly, preventable problems that include cancer, heart disease, and lung disorders.  Not to mention legal woes.  Recently, a Florida jury awarded the widow of a chain smoker $8 million for her husband’s death.  In Florida alone, 8000 other tobacco injury lawsuits are slated to go to trial.

If the bill passes, an FDA center funded by user fees from tobacco companies would be established, said Reuters, that would be responsible to “monitor ingredients, inspect manufacturing facilities, and oversee marketing.”  The center would not be responsible for tobacco farming oversight.  The legislation states that the bill’s oversight would save $75 billion in healthcare costs by reducing teen smoking.  

But, some feel that adding new responsibilities just adds more room for error to an agency that cannot seem to handle the industries it is currently charged with, citing the huge and ongoing peanut salmonella scandal and last year’s heparin contamination debacle. "The FDA is the wrong agency at the wrong time to give this type of responsibility," said Texas Republican Representative Joe Barton, according to Reuters.

Industry reaction is mixed, said Reuters.  Massive Altria Group Inc's Philip Morris supports the bill, calling it “tough, but reasonable,” while R.J. Reynolds Tobacco said the bill presents a burden, citing registering and maintaining records with the FDA.  The American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, support the bill, saying in a joint statement with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network, and the American Heart Association that, "Until Congress grants the FDA authority over tobacco products, the tobacco companies will continue their harmful practices that addict children and make it difficult for smokers to quit" reported Reuters.

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