WASHINGTON -- Congress sent legislation to the White HouseFriday granting the federal government unprecedented authority toregulate and restrict cigarettes, the single largest cause ofpreventable death.
President Barack Obama quickly expressed his support, appearingin the Rose Garden almost immediately after the House gave finalapproval to the bill giving the Food and Drug Administrationcontrol over tobacco production, marketing and sales.
For more than a decade, Obama said, leaders in Congress havebeen trying to prevent the marketing of cigarettes to children"and provide the public with the information they need tounderstand what a dangerous habit this is." He said the outcomewas "a bill that truly defines change in Washington."
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chief sponsor of the House version,called it "the single most important thing that we can do rightnow to curb this deadly toll."
More than 400,000 people die every year from tobacco-relateddiseases, according to government figures. About 45 million U.S.adults are smokers, though the prevalence has fallen since the U.S.surgeon general's warning 45 years ago that tobacco causes lungcancer.
The House, which first passed a similar FDA bill in April, voted307-97 to endorse the version passed 79-17 by the Senate onThursday.
The measure puts special emphasis on dissuading some of the3,500 young people who every day smoke a cigarette for the firsttime. It prohibits use of candied and flavored cigarettes popularamong young people and severely restricts advertisements andpromotions targeted toward youth. It bans use of words such as"mild" or "light" that give the impression that the brand issafer. It requires stronger warning labels.
The FDA would also require tobacco companies to reveal thecontents of their products and they'd have to seek approval formarketing new products. It gives the FDA power to order changes toingredients, including tar and nicotine, to protect public health.
Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation'slargest tobacco company, issued a statement Thursday supporting thelegislation and saying it approved "tough but reasonable federalregulation of tobacco products" by the FDA. Rival companies havevoiced opposition, saying FDA limits on new tobacco products couldlock in market shares for Philip Morris, maker of Marlborocigarettes.
Opposition in the House came from Republicans concerned aboutgovernment intrusion in private enterprise and tobacco statelawmakers. Rep. Howard Coble, R- N.C., said people in his statebelieved "allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco in any capacitywould lead to the FDA regulating the family farm."
The greater goal of the legislation is to reduce deaths linkedto smoking and shrink the annual $100 billion health care price tagfor tobacco-related illnesses.
Smoking is responsible for more than 30 percent of all cancerdeaths, said Dr. Douglas Blayney, president of the American Societyof Clinical Oncology. The bill, he said, "should have a hugeimpact on reducing the death and disease brought on by tobaccouse."
Obama, who has spoken of his own struggle to quit smoking,praised the bill, saying it "will make history by giving thescientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to takesensible steps."
Lawmakers, led by the ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.,have been fighting for more than a decade to impose governmentcontrols over cigarettes, only to meet strong resistance from thetobacco industry and others. The Supreme Court in 2000 said the FDAdid not have authority to regulate tobacco under current law, andthe administration of then- President George W. Bush opposedcongressional efforts to rewrite the law.
The industry, said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who guided the billto passage in the Senate, had long succeeded in excluding itselffrom federal regulation. "That now changes forever," he said.
"Passage of this historic legislation by both the House and theSenate is a victory for public health over Big Tobacco," said Dr.Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times