Tobacco Regulation Bill Falters

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Tobacco Regulation Bill Falters

NEW YORK -- Antismoking advocates and key Democratic senators said they have serious objections to the latest draft of a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration authority over cigarettes.

The breakdown in negotiations, for now, makes it less likely that any bill giving the FDA authority over tobacco products will pass the Senate this year, dashing the hopes of executives at Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA, which supports regulation.

This is a great win for retailers," said NACS Director of Government Affairs Allison Shulman. "NACS was very concerned about how potential retailing provisions would impact convenience stores and their ability to sell tobacco. However, the war isn't over-- there are possible procedural steps that could be used to reinvigorate this proposed legislation. NACS will remain on the watch for those and fight for the interests of retailers."

Sen. Judd Gregg, (R-N.H.) chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has been circulating drafts of FDA legislation to colleagues, health groups and tobacco companies. He expected to introduce a bill this fall with the backing of health groups and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, the committee's top Democrat, according to The Wall Street Journal. Tobacco-state lawmakers had been supporting the FDA bill in exchange for assistance to cash-strapped tobacco growers, through proposed "tobacco quota buyout" legislation.

But the behind-the-scenes negotiations among the senators and anti-smoking advocates fell apart. Critics said the latest draft of the FDA bill was too vague and had a loophole that could undermine the agency's ability to make cigarettes less dangerous by keeping the FDA tied up in litigation with companies that don't want to comply with its changes, the report said.

"Unfortunately, the proposed legislation which Republicans put forth today falls far short of the strong FDA authority which is needed to effectively do the job," Sen. Kennedy said in a statement. "A weak bill is worse than no bill at all because it would give the public a false impression that their health was being protected."

Mark Berlind, an attorney for Altria Group, blamed the breakdown in negotiations partly on the antismoking lobby as well as rivals R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. and Loews Corp.'s Lorillard, which had opposed FDA regulation of tobacco. "Regulation of tobacco products has been defeated for now by a coalition of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard -- none of whom truly wanted anything meaningful to change," he said.