Monday, April 6, 2009
House Tobacco Bill Moves to Senate
Bill would give FDA control over nicotine products.
It is one of the most popular drugs in America, used and abused by millions. Yet it is not regulated by any government agency. There is no federal testing, no quality control, no standards of any kind. As representative Jared Polis (D-Colorado) memorably told the U.S. House of Representatives: “Tobacco use is the single largest cause of preventable death in our country. Yet it continues to receive less regulation than a head of lettuce.”
That deplorable situation may soon change, as the U.S. Senate takes up a bill recently passed by the House. The legislation would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broad new powers to regulate the tobacco industry for the first time in history.
The house bill is similar to one passed last session, which died in the Senate after it was opposed by the Bush administration. According to reports by Duff Wilson in the New York Times, the legislation would enable the FDA to “approve or reject current and proposed tobacco products and ingredients, based on scientific and health findings.” The FDA would be able to restrict harmful chemicals and reject new tobacco products, but in a major concession to Philip Morris, the nation’s largest cigarette maker, the bill “would not allow a complete ban of tobacco products, or permit the agency to order the complete removal of nicotine.” The Times article also said the bill would lead to larger and more graphic warning labels on cigarette packs.
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) said he plans to introduce the bill later this month. The legislation is supported by President Obama. An official statement released by the administration said that tobacco use “is a major factor driving the increasing costs of health care in the U.S. and accounts for over a hundred billion dollars annually in financial costs to the economy.” Attempts to mandate FDA regulation of tobacco have been made repeatedly over the past decade.
Tobacco industry supporters have vowed to fight the bill on the Senate floor. Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said he was considering a filibuster. House Republican Virginia Foxx, also of North Carolina, derided the legislation as “an unnecessary and expensive regulatory scheme at the expense of our rural farming communities.” North Carolina is the country’s leading tobacco growing state.
A spokesperson for the American Heart Association said the Senate was expected to act quickly on the bill: “This has certainly been a passion of Senator Kennedy’s and a legacy he can leave to the public health of America.”
Photo Credit: Winston-Salem Journal