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Congress Passes Tobacco Crackdown

Bill Gives FDA Power Over Cigarettes, Ending Decade-Long Fight
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“It’s clear that what the tobacco companies know they have to do, is they have to replenish their customers, they have to find more than a thousand new customers a day,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “They go to teenagers, and those are the people they know they must addict.”

The bill passed the House with more than 300 votes in favor, and only a handful of members, mostly from tobacco-growing states, opposed it.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) argued that the FDA is already overwhelmed with it’s charges of regulating prescription medications, medical devices, and the safety of large parts of the food supply. Instead, he proposed creating a separate agency to regulate tobacco products. Burr, who is a member of the HELP Committee, also said the FDA’s reputation as a public health agency would be damaged by forcing it to approve inherently unhealthy products.

“I go to the core mission of the FDA, to approve the safety and efficacy of every product that they regulate. Can they do that with tobacco? No. Which means they’re going to turn their head on their core mission on one product, and that’s not going to spill over to the other products? Are the American people really ready to take that risk?” he said in an interview.

Public health, medical, and religious groups all came out strongly for the legislation.

Margaret A. Hamburg, the newly appointed FDA commissioner, issued a statement saying the agency “welcomes the authority” to regulate tobacco.

“We view our new responsibilities as a logical extension of our public health mission,” she said.

About 400,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are attributable to smoking, according to the CDC. About one-fifth of U.S. adults smoke. Though the number has dropped over the last several decades, public health experts have been troubled by a recent leveling-off in adult and youth smoking numbers.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the chairman of the HELP Committee and a longtime advocate of tobacco control efforts, said in a statement: "Decades of irresponsible delay are finally over.  Today’s landmark vote will save millions of children from a lifetime of addiction and premature death.  Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that enactment of this legislation is the most important action Congress can take to reduce youth smoking.”

Kennedy did not vote on the measure Thursday because he is ill with a brain tumor and absent from the Senate.

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