FDA May Get New Power Over Tobacco
Backers Confident Bill Giving Power to Regulate Has Legs
Feb. 15, 2007 -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation
Thursday that would give the FDA new power to regulate tobacco.
The bill has languished in Congress for several years. But backers say
they're confident that broad bipartisan support will succeed in putting it on
President Bush's desk for the first time.
A similar bill passed the Senate in 2004 only to fall to Republican
opposition in the House. Congress has been wrangling over the FDA's authority
to limit cigarettes ever since the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in 2000 that the
agency has no inherent authority to regulate tobacco.
Now the bill has the backing of several key Republicans, including some from
"I think there's going to be a strong bipartisan majority here,"
says Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a conservative who is sponsoring the
legislation with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass).
The bill would give the FDA new power to crack down on cigarette advertising
aimed at children and would also strengthen warning labels on ads and cigarette
packs. Regulators would have the authority to order harmful ingredients removed
from cigarettes and would force manufacturers to clear health-related terms
like "light" or "low-tar" with the agency before using them for
The FDA moved in the late 1990s to establish regulatory limits on tobacco
products and marketing. Advertising companies quickly sued to block the rules,
and cigarette makers took their case to the Supreme Court.
The bill gives the agency the authority to regulate cigarette sales in an
effort to prevent children from taking up the habit. More than half of all
regular smokers are thought to start before they are 18 years old, according to
the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the bill's lead sponsor in the House, said the
bill will not seek to ban smoking by adults, or to take nicotine -- the
addictive ingredient in tobacco -- out of cigarettes.
Waxman was a key force behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision last
month to ban cigarette smoking by lawmakers in the ornate Speaker's Lobby
adjacent to the House floor.
"This is the year I believe that the regulation of tobacco by the Food
and Drug Administration is going to become law," he told reporters.
The bill has divided cigarette makers. Steven C. Parrish, senior vice
president of Altria Group, Inc., said in a statement that the public has
reached consensus for "broad regulation" of tobacco.
"We wholeheartedly support the FDA legislation introduced today in its
entirety," Parrish said.
But regulation is opposed by R.J. Reynolds, the nation's second largest
cigarette manufacturer. David Howard, a company spokesman, says regulation
unfairly disables the company from improving its market share against industry
"If you have no way of communicating what makes your products different
and possibly better it makes it very hard to compete," he said.
More than 400,000 Americans are thought to die from the direct effects of
cigarette smoking each year, according to the CDC.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) predicted that Congressional votes on the regulation
will show broad support.
"This will be a very large margin. This could be better than two to
one," he said.