A bill that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products has been approved by the House of Representatives on a 298-112 vote, the New York Times reported April 3.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), would set up a new tobacco-regulation office at FDA that would be funded by fees on the tobacco industry and have the power to regulate — and possibly ban — the ingredients in cigarettes and other tobacco products. FDA also would be empowered to approve or reject new tobacco products and regulate tobacco advertising.
Companion legislation will be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), but Sen. Richard Burr (D-N.C.) has threatened to filibuster the bill, so backers may need to gather 60 Senate votes to close debate and bring the Senate bill to a vote. Burr is pushing an alternative plan that proposes development of so-called 'reduced-risk' tobacco products rather than increased regulation of the tobacco industry, which has a big presence in Burr's home state.
Similar legislation did garner 60 Senate votes last year, however, and though one of those supporters — then-Sen. Barack Obama — now sits in the White House, there are seven new Democratic senators this year.
The Obama administration this week came out strongly in favor of the FDA bill, stating, “Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is a contributing factor to scores of diseases and conditions inflicting misery upon millions of our citizens. Further, 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.”
“We've come to what I hope will be an historic occasion, and that is finally doing something about the harm that tobacco does to thousands and thousands of Americans who die each year, and stopping the attempt to get our children to smoke,” said Waxman during the House debate on the bill Wednesday.