How FDA might flex new power

By fall, federal authority to regulate tobacco could affect content and ads.

Washington CorrespondentJune 13, 2009 

— The Food and Drug Administration will soon begin regulating tobacco products with sweeping new powers that will affect everything from cigarette content to marketing.

On Friday the U.S. House strongly endorsed legislation to regulate tobacco, ending a legislative battle that has stretched on for more than a decade. President Barack Obama is expected to quickly sign it into law.

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

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-sweet tobacco lozenges and sugary products would be pulled off the market.

Once Obama signs the legislation, parts of the bill could take effect by fall. Within three months, the FDA would develop its new Center for Tobacco Products. By winter, tobacco companies would pay FDA fees.

Packaging labels would change within a year, and new regulations on the chemical content of cigarettes could follow a year after that.

Health advocates endorsed the legislation, saying it will prevent many deaths, including an estimated 44,000 per year in North Carolina.

The House vote was 307-97. It came just a day after the Senate passed the legislation 79-17.

Much of the opposition came from tobacco states, including North Carolina, the nation's No. 1 grower of tobacco.

"It is my belief that allowing FDA to regulate tobacco in any capacity would inevitably lead to FDA regulating the family farm," said U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro. That is the home of Lorillard, the No. 3 tobacco company and maker of Newport cigarettes.

"This could create uncertainty for family farmers at a time when they are already struggling during the economic downturn," he said.

bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0012

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