Congress Passes Tobacco Crackdown
Bill Gives FDA Power Over Cigarettes, Ending Decade-Long Fight
WebMD News Archive
“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
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.