Bill proposed in Congress requires government regulation of cigarettes

WASHINGTON – With support from a president who’s been trying to kick the habit himself, lawmakers renewed their efforts yesterday to require government regulation of cigarettes. President Barack Obama has been an occasional smoker who acknowledged recently that quitting hasn’t been easy. While in the Senate last year he co-sponsored legislation that would have given the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products, to reduce the harm from smoking. The broadly popular legislation passed the House last summer but faced a veto threat from then-President George W. Bush and didn’t get a vote in the Senate. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who’s fought for years for government regulation of tobacco products, reintroduced the bill yesterday. ‘Tobacco has never been, and should never be, a partisan issue,’ Waxman said. ‘I believe most members of Congress share my desire to pass meaningful and truly effective tobacco legislation to reduce youth smoking.’ Waxman plans to bring the bill to a vote tomorrow in the Energy and Commerce Committee, which he chairs, and said he was optimistic it would become law during this session of Congress. Advocates applauded the news. ‘Federal government oversight is necessary to hold the industry accountable,’ said Nancy Brown, head of the American Heart Association. ‘We hope this will lead to swift congressional action.’ Opponents of the legislation contend the FDA is not up to the job. ‘I believe it’s going to gut the agency’s resources and distract it from its core mission,’ said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute and a deputy FDA commissioner during the Bush administration. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who chairs the Senate’s health committee, plans to reintroduce a Senate version of the bill in coming weeks. Last year his bill had 60 co-sponsors, including Obama – enough to overcome a filibuster. Now there are even more Democrats in the Senate, probably increasing the likelihood of passage. An earlier version of the bill passed the Senate in 2004. While the legislation would not let the FDA outlaw tobacco or nicotine, the agency could demand the reduction or elimination of cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke. The bill would prohibit candy-flavored cigars and cigarettes, and would give the FDA authority to ban menthol.