Senate votes to allow FDA to regulate tobacco

The Senate approved landmark legislation June 11 to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco, a long-sought move that anti-tobacco groups hail as an important step in improving the nation’s health.

The bipartisan measure, adopted on a 79–19 vote, would give the FDA the authority and resources necessary to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products for the first time.

That would include restricting tobacco advertising and promotion targeted at children and banning misleading health descriptors on tobacco products (such as “light” and “low-tar”). It also would regulate health claims made by tobacco companies.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill’s lead sponsor, called the change “long overdue” and would mean the government “can finally take the actions needed to protect our people from the most deadly of all consumer products.”

The House passed similar legislation in April by a vote of 298–112. President Obama, a former smoker who has struggled to kick the habit, has indicated he is eager to sign a final measure into law.

Forty-five years after the first United States surgeon general’s report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, anti-smoking advocates say tobacco is among the least-regulated products in America.

Currently the FDA is authorized to impose consumer-health protections on a wide array of products including food, drugs, cosmetics and even dog food – but not tobacco.

Tobacco use kills an estimated 400,000 Americans per year and costs the nation $96 billion annually in health-care bills.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called regulation of tobacco “long overdue” and “an enormous achievement for America’s health.”

“This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” the group said in a press release. “If effectively implemented, it will significantly reduce the number of children who start to use tobacco, the number of adults who continue to use tobacco and the number of people who suffer and die as a result.”

More than 1,000 public health and religious groups joined in supporting the legislation as well.

The Bush administration opposed giving the FDA authority over tobacco, claiming it would overburden the agency and send a false message that tobacco products winning FDA approval are safe.

Copyright 2009, SBC, Baptist Press, www.BPNews.net.

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