Senate Votes for FDA to Regulate Tobacco

Times have changed now that even tobacco states have smoking bans. Today, after two weeks of wrangling and a decade of considering the change, the U.S. Senate endorsed increased regulation of tobacco.

Senators voted 79-17 to regulate tobacco in the same way the government regulates everything else you put in your body -- from Froot Loops to aspirin.

Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" tonight at 6:30 ET for the full report.

At Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, organization president Matthew L. Myers called the vote "a truly historic victory" and "the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use."

"Forty-five years after the first U.S. Surgeon General's report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, the most deadly product sold in America will no longer be the least-regulated product sold in America," Myers said in a statement.

The bill would give the federal government the power to regulate cigarette ingredients, to ban the marketing of "light cigarettes" and to require graphic warning labels.

Newfound authority over tobacco would mean the FDA could hold cigarette manufacturers to the same standards for quality control and marketing as makers of breakfast cereals and pharmaceuticals. It could also move to reduce nicotine levels and harmful chemicals in cigarettes.

And it could mean cigarette makers would be required to include new, larger warning graphics with more health information on their products and would be prohibited from using words like "light" and "low tar" in their marketing.

It's a huge move that's been a long time coming.

"We have tried for ten years and we have failed," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., in a speech on the Senate floor earlier this month when the Senate voted to break a filibuster and consider the legislation. "Think what kind of a difference we could have made. How many lives we would have saved if we passed this ten years ago."

The House already passed its version of the bill in April, so it will go the president as soon as the chambers iron out the differences.

"This legislation is a key part of our plans to cut health care costs and reduce the number of Americans who smoke," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "I hope the House will act quickly and approve this legislation."

Unlike former President Bush, who suggested he'd veto legislation to give the FDA authority over tobacco, President Obama has said he supports it.

Obama released a statement today saying, "I look forward to signing this bill into law, and to working with HHS Secretary Sebelius and FDA Commissioner Hamburg on its implementation."

Big Tobacco Is Prepared With Alternatives

Big tobacco has already been readying itself for a tougher U.S. regulatory environment by expanding its overseas marketing and developing new smokeless products.

Not surprisingly, most of the tobacco industry has opposed the bill. But there are also major exceptions to that rule. The giant Altria, parent company of Philip Morris, has taken an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach and supports the measure, though some complain they've managed to water down the bill.

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