Lawmakers seek to give FDA power over tobacco

A bipartisan team of lawmakers opened a new drive on Thursday to grant the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate cigarettes and tobacco-and got the backing of one major tobacco company.

The lawmakers unveiled a revised version of legislation that has foundered in recent years that would give the FDA power to regulate tobacco, including the ability to regulate nicotine, restrict advertising to children and order stronger and larger health warnings on packages.

It would also prohibit unsubstantiated health claims about “reduced risk” products such as those called “light” or “ultralight.”

“Under this FDA legislation, we will not have to wait until the deaths of millions more Americans to learn whether a so-called safer cigarette is what it claims to be,” said California Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman, an author of the bill.

The legislation was endorsed by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and other public health groups, and by Altria the parent company of Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes. The industry is divided and other tobacco companies have not agreed to the same degree of regulation.

Philip Morris has stated its support for FDA regulation of tobacco for several years, but this time it agreed on the specifics of a bill that has significant public health support and the backing of the leading anti-smoking lawmakers. The company issued a statement voicing its “enthusiastic support.”

Under the proposed legislation, the FDA would be able to limit harmful substances in tobacco products but would not be able to ban cigarettes or nicotine completely. Only Congress would have that power. Tobacco companies oppose letting the FDA ban cigarettes.

Lead sponsors of the bill in the Senate are Ohio Republican Mike DeWine and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, and in the House, Republican Tom Davis of Virginia and Democrats Waxman and Marty Meehan of Massachusetts.

Although not much legislation is moving in Congress as partisan tensions flare before November’s presidential and congressional elections, lawmakers said they believe this bill has a chance.

Indeed, pre-election pressure in southern states to help tobacco farmers may add momentum to the bill, as lawmakers believe that any FDA bill will be wed to a tobacco-buyout for farmers. “The two things have to come together,” DeWine said.

“The interest of tobacco-state members in passing a tobacco farmers’ quota buyout provides a golden opportunity,” Kennedy said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, has helped draft FDA legislation in the past, but an aide said he was reviewing the specifics of this bill.

New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg, chairman of the Senate health committee, had negotiated with Kennedy on earlier tobacco legislation but failed to reach agreement. He did not co-sponsor this legislation.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD