Tobacco Bill Vote Slated for Today

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Tobacco Bill Vote Slated for Today

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Health Committee is scheduled today to consider a bill that would, for the first time, allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate cigarettes. The bill now has 52 sponsors in the Senate, and a top House Republican predicted it would pass there by a margin of 2 to 1, according to published reports.

The legislation would give the FDA the same authority over cigarettes and other tobacco products that the regulatory agency already has over countless other consumer products. The bill would let the FDA regulate the levels of tar, nicotine and other harmful components of tobacco products, The Associated Press reported.

New products would need FDA approval before they could be sold. The bill also would authorize the agency to set national standards for tobacco products to control how they are made, as well as force the disclosure of their ingredients, including additives, and in what quantities, the AP said. That, supporters claim, should help expose and ultimately limit the ways cigarettes are engineered to the detriment of the public's health.

The New York Times also noted that the legislation would give the agency the power to regulate all tobacco advertisements and ban any that were intended to attract children and teenagers. The agency would police any claims -- stated or implied -- that some cigarettes were healthier than others.

Some cigarette makers argue that the bill favors Philip Morris USA because the strict regulation of tobacco advertisements and new products will make it all but impossible to unseat the company from its dominant position. "We believe the legislation being considered would put us at a competitive disadvantage in that we would not have the ability to communicate product differences with adult tobacco consumers," David Howard, a spokesman for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., told the Times.

In 2004, President Bush opposed an earlier version of the tobacco legislation, but he has yet to make a public statement about the latest proposal. A White House spokesman would not offer a comment to the newspaper when approached earlier this week.