House advances FDA authority over tobacco
■ Health groups applauded progress toward what many say is critical to tobacco control efforts. The Senate may consider a companion bill after its August recess.
By Susan J. Landers — Posted Aug. 18, 2008
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By an overwhelming 326-102 vote, the House of Representatives on July 30 passed a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco products. Approval of such a measure has long been sought by the American Medical Association and other health advocacy groups.
Although the bill would not give the FDA authority to ban tobacco products outright or to eliminate nicotine, it would allow the agency to regulate levels of tar, nicotine and other harmful components of tobacco.
In addition, the measure would allow the agency to restrict tobacco ads to children, require that toxic substances be identified and that new and larger warning labels be added to packaging.
Some flavorings banned
The bill also would allow the FDA to ban the candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes that are favored by young people. However, it would exempt menthol flavoring from the prohibition. As a result, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network withdrew its support for the measure. Many African-American smokers favor menthol cigarettes, and the NAATPN maintains that menthol should be viewed in the same light as fruit and candy flavoring and also be barred from tobacco products.
Sponsors of the bill did gain support from the Congressional Black Caucus by adding a provision to mandate a scientific advisory committee study on the effects of menthol flavoring and issue a recommendation within a year.
"Given what we know about the dangers of smoking, it is astonishing that tobacco products are one of the least regulated products in our society," said Joseph M. Heyman, MD, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees. "Congressional action to provide the FDA with strong and effective regulatory authority over tobacco products is long overdue."
Senate bill faces opposition
The Senate companion measure, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.), has 56 co-sponsors. The bill may be considered in that chamber after Congress's August recess, but it does face some opposition.
For instance, Sen. Mike Enzi (R, Wyo.) denounced the bill for not going far enough to stop people from smoking. "Trying to make cigarettes safer through a billion-dollar bureaucracy is a waste of time and money."
President Bush has threatened to veto the measure.