President Obama Signs Anti-Smoking Law

FDA has newfound authority to regulate tobacco.

ByABC News
June 22, 2009, 12:26 PM

June 22, 2009— -- President Obama knows all too well how difficult it is to quit smoking, and today he addressed his struggle to kick the habit just before signing a law he hopes will help other people put out their cigarettes too.

"Each day, 1,000 young people under the age of 18 become new, regular, daily smokers, and almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday," Obama said today. "I know. I was one of these teenagers. And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time."

The new tobacco law gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco in the same way the government regulates breakfast cereals and pharmaceuticals.

"This legislation is a victory for bipartisanship, and it was passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress," Obama said today. "It's a victory for health care reform, as it will reduce some of the billions we spend on tobacco-related health care costs in this country."

Watch ABC News Primetime: Questions for the President -- Prescription for America onWednesday, June 24 at 10 p ET.

Public health organizations and many lawmakers, several of whom joined Obama today for the signing, have been fighting for regulation for nearly a decade in hopes of helping an estimated 45 million adult smokers in the United States to kick their habit.

The law means the government will have the power to decide how cigarettes are advertised and monitor how they're promoted to young people. 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.

While the law does not have the power to ban cigarettes and nicotine outright, it does allow the FDA to reduce nicotine levels and harmful chemicals in tobacco products.

"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," said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a statement earlier this month when Congress passed the bill.

Within the year, a rule will also be reinstated that prohibits outdoor tobacco ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds, and bans tobacco brands from sponsoring sports and entertainment events, according to the law.

At the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, CEO John R. Seffrin said the changes "will finally put an end to Big Tobacco's despicable marketing practices that are designed to addict children to its deadly products."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also pinned high hopes on the effort.

"This legislation is a key part of our plans to cut health care costs and reduce the number of Americans who smoke," Sebelius said in a June 11 statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 440,000 people die prematurely from smoking each year, with an estimated 49,000 of those deaths due to secondhand smoke exposure.

"This legislation provides a tremendous opportunity to finally hold tobacco companies accountable and restrict efforts to addict more children and adults," American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a June 11 statement. "It has been a long and challenging process to move the bill through Congress but the determination of many concerned parents and supporters has never wavered."