New tobacco regulations get the vote

WASHINGTON – As expected, the House of Representatives on Friday strongly endorsed new, extensive legislation to regulate tobacco.

The 307-97 House vote to back a Senate version of the bill seals a legislative battle that has stretched more than a decade.

The Food and Drug Administration will begin regulating tobacco products with sweeping new powers that will affect everything from cigarette content to marketing. President Barack Obama is expected to move quickly to sign it into law.

“I look forward to signing it,” Obama said right after the vote. “I want to thank all the people in the House and the Senate for working so hard to pass this bill in a bipartisan way.”

Under the bill, the addictive chemical of nicotine could be drastically reduced, though not eliminated. The FDA could alter other chemical content, potentially changing both the taste and potentially the health impacts of tobacco.

Warnings would cover at least half of tobacco packages. Advertising would be restricted to black-and-white. No tobacco product could be marketed as “reduced risk” without extensive scientific backup.

Candy-like tobacco lozenges and sweet-flavored products would be pulled off the market.

Health advocates overwhelmingly endorsed the legislation, saying it will save thousands of deaths from smoking-related diseases.

The Senate passed the legislation 79-17 on Thursday. The House previously passed a similar version in May on a 298-112 vote.

Much of the opposition came from tobacco states.

“It is my belief that allowing FDA to regulate tobacco in any capacity would inevitably lead to FDA regulating the family farm,” said Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro, N.C., home to No. 3 tobacco company Lorillard, maker of Newports.

“This could create uncertainty for family farmers at a time when they are already struggling during the economic downturn.”

Barbara Barrett

McClatchy Newspapers