Darron Cummings/AP

US Senate Bill Imposes Restrictions on Tobacco Industry

June 12, 2009 06:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
In some of the most drastic anti-smoking legislation in decades, the Senate voted to allow the FDA to regulate the marketing, advertising and content of tobacco and its products.

FDA to Rule Over Tobacco Industry

The U.S. Senate issued an overwhelming 79-17 vote on a new bill that would grant the FDA “authority to regulate the content, marketing and advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products,” the Associated Press reports. This legislation is one of the most intensive anti-smoking initiatives since the U.S. surgeon general issued a warning about tobacco causing lung cancer 45 years ago.

If the House approves the bill, it will be transferred directly to President Obama, who has publicly expressed his support of the initiative. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told AP that "from what I have seen so far, I believe it will be possible for us to accept their bill and send it right on to the president.”

Once the new bill is approved, the FDA would be able to regulate the amount of nicotine included in cigarettes, “drastically curtail ads and ban candied tobacco products aimed at young people,” according to the AP. As The Washington Post explains, the 20 percent of Americans who smoke will be bombarded with increasingly graphic warnings about the health risks involved in smoking.

Supporters of the bill say the new stipulations could reduce the nearly 400,000 deaths caused by smoking every year and lower tobacco-related health care costs, which amount to as much as $100 billion a year, the AP reported.

“This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States," Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, told the AP.

Reactions: Tobacco companies weigh in

Throughout the years, attempts to pass similar bills and regulations have been met with fierce opposition from the $89 billion tobacco industry. This time around, however, Philip Morris, the largest tobacco manufacturer in the country, has expressed its support for the new legislation, according to The Washington Post.

“[T]he legislation is an important step forward to achieve the goal we share with others to provide federal regulation of tobacco products,” Altria Group, Phillip Morris’s parent company, declared in a statement quoted by the AP. Other tobacco companies, on the other hand, have expressed their opposition, suggesting that the new restrictions would allow Phillip Morris to secure its portion of the tobacco market.  

Background: Flavored cigarettes lure youngsters

Part of the initiative aims to keep cigarettes away from minors and prevent youngsters from starting to smoke. The new regulations will prohibit tobacco companies from adding flavors that appeal to children and will ban the use of cartoon characters in marketing, The Washington Post reported.

In 2005, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota proposed banning certain types of flavored cigarettes, arguing that they were particularly attractive to minors. A year later, after a multi-state legal effort, major tobacco company R.J. Reynolds “agreed to stop using candy, fruit and alcohol names for flavored cigarettes that may appeal to children,” the Chicago Tribune reported. However, they did not agree to stop selling the cigarettes themselves.

In January, lawmakers in Nassau County, New York, passed a bill that would require stores that sell candy and bubblegum cigarettes to stock them behind the counter together with the real cigarettes, citing a link between candy cigarettes and adult smoking.

Related Topic: E-Cigarettes cause FDA concern

Earlier this year, a Chinese company began marketing electronic cigarettes as a healthier alternative to smoking and a way to quit. These new smoke-free, battery-operated “e-cigarettes” are allegedly healthier than real cigarettes because they contain no tobacco and only release a “vapor” of liquid nicotine into the lungs. Health professionals, however, argued that they too may be addictive. The FDA has not approved the cigarettes, and there’s no evidence that they will help users quit smoking, as manufacturers claim. The liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes comes from tobacco; therefore, according to Beaumont Enterprise, if the bill granting the FDA regulatory power over tobacco is signed into law, it would potentially also give the FDA more authority over e-cigarettes. The agency has already moved to prevent more e-cigarettes from entering the country, labeling them an "unapproved drug-delivery device."

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