Seven years after being rebuffed by the Supreme Court, anti-smoking advocates rejoiced Thursday as lawmakers renewed a push for federal regulation of tobacco, a step they say is needed to deter children from lighting up and to get smokers to quit.
"Congress has the opportunity to take a monumental step and grant the Food and Drug Administration the meaningful and long-overdue authority to regulate tobacco, which kills 440,000 people and costs our nation $96.7 billion in health care bills every year," said John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced legislation Thursday that would give the FDA the same authority over cigarettes and other tobacco products that it already has over countless other consumer products.
"Congress cannot in good conscience allow the federal agency most responsible for protecting the public health to remain powerless to deal with the enormous risks of tobacco, the most deadly of all consumer products," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said in introducing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Tom Davis, R-Va.
For decades, the FDA said it lacked authority to regulate tobacco so long as cigarette makers did not claim that smoking provided health benefits. In 1996, it reversed course and cited new evidence that the industry intended its products to feed the nicotine habits of the roughly 45 million Americans who smoke.
Tobacco companies sued, and the case eventually landed in the Supreme Court. In 2000, the court ruled 5-4 that Congress did not authorize the FDA to regulate tobacco.
Previous legislative efforts to give the FDA that authority have faltered. The new bill is fundamentally the same legislation as introduced in the last Congress. Supporters believe it will fare better in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it had the support of the caucus. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she personally supported it.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto declined to comment.
The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing the legislation, spokeswoman Christina Pearson said.
The bill would allow the FDA to act to discourage children from starting smoking and encourage adults to quit, in part by reining in advertising, bolstering existing sales restrictions and strengthening warning labels. It also would allow the FDA to order the elimination or reduction of harmful and addictive ingredients in tobacco. The agency couldn't ban nicotine outright, but the bill would give it the power to reduce its levels.
Furthermore, the bill would require tobacco companies to disclose what tobacco products _ and their smoke _ contain. Secondhand smoke, for example, contains 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA had no immediate comment on the proposed legislation. Many tobacco companies have opposed the legislation in the past, with the exception of Philip Morris USA, maker of Marlboro, the nation's top-selling cigarette brand.
"FDA regulation creates a uniform set of federal standards for the manufacture and marketing of all tobacco products," Michael E. Szymanczyk, chairman and chief executive officer of Philip Morris USA, said in a statement.
Experts and other tobacco companies believe some provisions of the bill would favor the most entrenched players in the industry, like Philip Morris, which enjoy strong brand loyalty that could allow them to weather advertising restrictions without losing market share.
"We certainly continue to oppose any bill that conveys an unfair advantage or disadvantage to any manufacturer, which this legislation could. If you eliminate ways to communicate with adult smokers or consumers, that certainly benefits the market leader and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for those who aren't the market leader to compete," said David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation's second-largest tobacco company and maker of Camel and other brands.
Source: AP News