Sat, Jun 13, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Regulators gain new powers in anti-smoking bill

SENATE VOTE Senators passed the toughly worded legislation by a vote of 79-17, so now a compromise must be worked out over a similar House proposal


The US Congress’ strongest anti-smoking law in decades gives regulators new power to limit nicotine in cigarettes, drastically curtail advertising and ban candied tobacco products aimed at young people.

At the same time, it orders the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the country’s main regulator of foodstuffs and medicines, not to ban either cigarettes or nicotine, the substance that makes smoking tobacco addictive.

Advocates of the legislation say the changes are necessary to marshal government powers to save some of the 400,000 people who die in the US from smoking every year and to reduce the US$100 billion in annual health care costs linked to tobacco.

The legislation, one of the most dramatic anti-smoking initiatives since the US surgeon general’s warning 45 years ago that tobacco causes lung cancer, would give the FDA authority to regulate the content, marketing and advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products. It specified that the nicotine level can be set by the FDA but not to zero.

Officials of Philip Morris, USA, the largest cigarette manufacturer, were party to the negotiations.

“This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, which also participated in negotiations.

Thursday’s 79-17 Senate vote sends the measure back to the House of Representatives, which in April passed a similar but not identical version. House acceptance of the Senate bill would send it directly to US President Barack Obama, who supports the action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said that “from what I have seen so far, I believe it will be possible for us to accept their bill and send it right on to the president.”

Obama’s signature would then add tobacco to other nationally important areas that have come under greater government supervision since his presidency began, including banking, housing and autos.

Supporters of government regulation of tobacco have struggled for more than a decade to overcome powerful resistance from the industry and elsewhere. In 2000, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the FDA did not have the authority to regulate tobacco products, and former president George W. Bush’s administration opposed several efforts to write a new law.

Opponents, led by Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, a tobacco-growing state, argued that the FDA was the wrong place to regulate an item that is injurious to health.

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