House Votes to Have FDA Regulate Tobacco
WASHINGTON --The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed legislation giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration power to regulate tobacco.
The vote passed 298-112. The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, however, where lawmakers from tobacco-producing states oppose the legislation.
The bill doesn't give the FDA power to ban existing tobacco products but gives the agency power to restrict sales on safety grounds. The FDA also would be able to stop companies from touting their brands as "low tar" and "mild" and restrict advertising to plain black-and-white ads. Health advocates say advertising restrictions are a key tool to keeping tobacco products away from children and young adults.
The bill passed the House last July but wasn't pushed in the Senate amid concerns that then-President George W. Bush would veto it. President Barack Obama backed the bill while in the Senate, and the White House said it "strongly supports" the legislation, suggesting the legislation may have more legs in the Senate this time.
But a senator from one of the largest tobacco-producing states, Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), has threatened to filibuster the bill.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) said he was concerned the legislation would overburden the FDA and take away resources from other areas of the agency. But Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), who sponsored the bill, said money from the FDA's general fund would be used on tobacco regulation for only the first six months. After that, it would be funded by the tobacco industry via user fees. Rep. Waxman said money borrowed from the general fund would be paid back by the user fees.
Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc., has provided key support for the bill. The company has argued that FDA oversight would create a stable framework to allow companies to make "safer" products.
Most other tobacco companies, including Lorillard Inc., oppose the bill. They argue that the legislation would allow Philip Morris, the largest cigarette maker in the U.S., to cement its sales lead, since the FDA would likely prohibit tobacco firms from developing new product lines.
By JARED A. FAVOLE and ALICIA MUNDY
April 2, 2009