House Vote Would Send Tobacco Bill To Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After more than a decade of efforts by smoking opponents, Congress prepared to take a final vote Friday on legislation giving the government far-reaching powers to regulate tobacco and limit tobacco industry marketing and sales practices that lure young people into smoking habits.

The House was expected to give overwhelming approval to legislation that for the first time gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to ban tobacco ingredients deemed dangerous to health, prohibit use of candied and flavored cigarettes popular among young people and prohibit use of words such as "mild" or "light" that give the impression that the brand is safer.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a leader in anti-smoking campaigns, said the bill was "truly historic and puts us one small step away from finally acting to address the tobacco epidemic in our country."

The Senate passed the bill on Thursday, and House approval would send it to President Barack Obama, who supports it.

The measure puts special emphasis on dissuading some of the 3,500 young people who every day smoke a cigarette for the first time. In addition to banning flavored tobacco, it would stop advertising that targets children, make it harder for underaged youth to buy cigarettes and require stronger warning labels.

The FDA would also require tobacco companies to reveal the contents of their products and seek approval for marketing new products. It gives the FDA power to order changes to ingredients, including tar and nicotine, to protect public health.

Opposition in the House came from Republicans concerned about government intrusion in private enterprise and tobacco state lawmakers. Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., said people in his state believed "allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco in any capacity would lead to the FDA regulating the family farm."

The greater goal of the legislation is to reduce the 400,000 deaths every year attributed to smoking and shrink the annual $100 billion health care price tag for tobacco-related illnesses.

"This long-overdue legislation will protect kids and reduce the terrible human and financial burden caused by tobacco use in this country," said Paul Billings, vice president of the American Lung Association.

Obama, who has spoken of his own struggle to quit smoking, praised the bill, saying it "will make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps."

Lawmakers, led by the ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., have been fighting for more than a decade to impose government controls over cigarettes only to meet strong resistance from the tobacco industry and others. The Supreme Court in 2000 said the FDA did not have authority to regulate tobacco under current law, and the George W. Bush administration opposed congressional efforts to rewrite the law.

The industry, said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who guided the bill to a 79-17 vote in the Senate on Thursday, had long succeeded in excluding itself from federal regulation. "That now changes forever," he said.

"Passage of this historic legislation by both the House and the Senate is a victory for public health over Big Tobacco," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association.

Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, issued a statement Thursday supporting the legislation and saying it approved "tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products" by the FDA. Rival companies have voiced opposition, saying FDA limits on new tobacco products could lock in market shares for Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

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