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Proposed Legislation Gives FDA Power to Regulate Tobacco

Government agency would oversee use of additives and advertising

FRIDAY, May 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The introduction of bipartisan federal bills that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sweeping powers to regulate tobacco products could prove to be the fourth historic move in the past 40 years to curtail smoking in the United States.

"This legislation would represent the most dramatic change in how cigarettes are manufactured, marketed and sold in the U.S. in history," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"It would result in a fundamental decrease in the kind of advertising that appeals to kids and, for the first time, it would give the federal government the authority to require tobacco companies to remove toxic substances from their products," Myers added. "This legislation has the potential to save literally millions of lives."

The bills, introduced Thursday, stand a good chance of passing both houses of Congress, lawmakers predicted.

Although the proposed legislation would prevent the FDA from banning cigarettes or eliminating the presence of nicotine completely, it would confer other powers. They include banning the use of harmful additives in cigarettes, such as trace amounts of arsenic, ammonia and formaldehyde; and requiring that all ingredients added to a cigarette, paper and filter be listed on the pack. It also calls for more prominent warning boxes; prohibiting the labels "light" and "ultra light" cigarettes unless specifically approved by the FDA; and controlling advertising that targets youth.

The proposal is unusual in a number of respects.

It was introduced in the Senate by lawmakers Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). At the same time, Representatives Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introduced a companion proposal in the House of Representatives. According to the Associated Press, this is the first time identical bills regarding the FDA have been introduced by Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress.

In a statement, DeWine said: "All tobacco products entering the market would be subjected to an FDA approval process. For the first time, the FDA would be able to review the health risks associated with tobacco products. The legislation would require manufacturers to submit health information to the FDA about 'reduced-risk' tobacco products, which claim to be safer than other tobacco products, before they can be marketed, and sold as 'reduced-risk' products. The FDA, not the tobacco companies, would have the authority to determine which tobacco products are reduced-risk."

But supporters of the bill aren't limited to the country's elected officials. Tobacco giant Philip Morris USA also supports the bill and came out with a statement saying it and its parent company "enthusiastically endorse passage of both bills in their entirety."

"We believe that FDA regulation of tobacco products is the best way to both reduce the harm caused by smoking and to provide clear rules that will help all manufacturers align their business practices with the public's expectations," said Mark Berlind, legislative counsel for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA.

There is question whether other tobacco companies feel the proposed law would erode their market share.

"We have not had a chance to review the bill, but we will review it using our usual standard which is, at the end of the day, will we still be able to compete for the business of adult smokers," said Seth Moskowitz, a spokesman for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. "If it does hurt our ability then we would have a problem with the bill, but I don't know that it does."

The bill is likely to be married to a tobacco-farmers' assistance measure, which means it should also garner the support of legislators from tobacco states.

"We believe that there is an excellent chance of enacting this bill this year," Sen. Kennedy said in a statement. "The interest of tobacco-state members in passing a tobacco farmers' quota buyout provides a golden opportunity. By joining a strong FDA bill with relief for tobacco farmers, we can assemble a broad, bipartisan coalition to accomplish both of these goals during this session. This approach is supported by the public health community and by farmers' organizations. Most importantly, it is the right thing to do for America's children."

Myers, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, added: "The bill's introduction at this time gives it a unique opportunity to pass because there is a great deal of pressure on Congress to provide economic assistance to tobacco farmers who are in serious trouble. If this legislation were combined with legislation to assist tobacco growers, it could garner a significant majority in both houses and help thousands of tobacco growers and promote the public health. It's an odd bedfellow coalition to make this happen."

The FDA has long lobbied for the authority to regulate tobacco as it does drugs. In 2000, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the agency did not have the right to do so.

Now it appears the FDA might gain at least part of that right.

The introduction of the bill comes six years after the $246 billion tobacco settlement requiring tobacco companies to make annual payments to states and to restrict marketing of tobacco products; 33 years after cigarette advertising on TV was banned; and 40 years after the first U.S. Surgeon General's report that delineated the dangers of smoking.

More information

For more on the problem of youth smoking, visit the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. For more on the health risks of tobacco, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Matthew L. Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; Seth Moskowitz, spokesman, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., Winston-Salem, N.C.; Senator Mike DeWine, (R-Ohio) press release; Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) press release; Philip Morris press release
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