Tobacco Bill Gives FDA New Power

A tobacco bill nearly a decade in the making is heading to President Barack Obama's desk after clearing its final hurdle today on Capitol Hill.

The House passed a measure to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco, confirming the Senate's decision Thursday.

Moments after the House voted 307-97 to pass the bill, Obama expressed his support for the measure. It's a departure from President Bush, who suggested he would veto legislation to give the FDA authority over tobacco.

"After a decade of opposition, all of us are finally about to achieve the victory with this bill, a bill that truly defines change in Washington," Obama said in the Rose Garden.

Times have changed now that even tobacco states have smoking bans.

The bill gives the FDA authority to regulate tobacco in the same way the government regulates everything else Americans put in their bodies -- from Froot Loops to aspirin.

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 gives 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 means the FDA could hold cigarette manufacturers to the same standards for quality control and marketing as makers of breakfast cereals and pharmaceuticals. It also moves to reduce nicotine levels and harmful chemicals in cigarettes.

And it means cigarette makers will be required to include new, larger warning graphics with more health information on their products and will 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 10 years and we have failed," Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said in a speech on the Senate floor earlier this month when the body 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 10 years ago."

Others were equally excited. "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.

Big Tobacco Is Prepared With Alternatives

Big the tobacco industry 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, although some complain they've managed to water down the bill.

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