Friday, June 12, 2009

Senate votes to give FDA greater control over tobacco

Senate votes to give FDA greater control over tobacco
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday backed a historic plan giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sweeping power over cigarettes and other tobacco products, allowing the agency to curb advertisements, require stronger package warnings and inspect manufacturers.
Supporters, backed by hundreds of health advocacy groups, cheered the bill's passage as a way to rein in cigarette makers and curb smoking, especially among teenagers and children.
"The tobacco companies' days of peddling one of the most deadly products in the world have finally come to an end," Democratic Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin said. "Now, we've given the FDA the tools necessary to protect millions of children and families from deadly tobacco-related diseases."
Under the measure, which passed in a bipartisan 79-17 vote, the FDA would regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products, curb advertisements and require stronger package warnings. It would also inspect cigarette makers, which must register with the agency and provide a list all the products they make.
A similar measure has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier on Thursday she wanted to look closely at the Senate's bill. "But from what I have seen so far, I believe it will be possible for us to accept their bill and send it right on to the president," she said.
President Barack Obama, who has discussed his own struggles to quit smoking, said he will sign the bill into law, saying "it will make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps that will reduce tobacco's harmful effects and prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children."
Tobacco companies, which suffered a blow last month when an appeals court agreed the industry lied to hide the dangers of smoking, are divided over the likely new regulations.
Altria Group Inc's Philip Morris unit, the nation's largest cigarette maker, "has supported tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products," the company said in a statement.
But others, such as Reynolds American Inc's R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit and Lorillard Inc's Lorillard Tobacco Co, say new records and fees will be a burden.
Reynolds spokeswoman Maura Payne said the company would comply with the regulations when they become law, but that "a lot of the details are yet to be worked out."
The bill explicitly bans flavored tobacco products, except for menthol, a move that could have especially hurt Lorillard. It does call for a report on the impact of menthol cigarette use, especially among blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.
This is not the first time the tobacco companies have faced tighter controls. Television and radio cigarette ads have been banned for nearly 40 years.
Under the Senate plan, advertising curbs would also target print media with large youth audiences. It also takes other steps, such as restricting vending machine sales to adult-only places.
The plan's opponents said the FDA, which has been dogged by various tainted food and drug safety scandals in recent years, is not up to the task of regulating yet another industry.
Some also say money would be better spent on programs that directly help people stop smoking rather than simply regulating a product that is known to cause death and serious illnesses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said tobacco use causes more than 400,000 preventable deaths in the United States each year. Continued...
Source: Reuters

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