WASHINGTON (ABP) — The Senate approved landmark legislation June 11 to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco, a long-sought move that anti-tobacco groups hail as an important step in improving the nation's health.
The bipartisan measure, adopted on a 79-19 vote, would for the first time give the FDA authority and resources necessary to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.
That would include restricting tobacco advertising and promotion targeted at children and banning misleading health descriptors on tobacco products (such as "light" and "low-tar"). It also would regulate health claims made by tobacco companies.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill's lead sponsor, called the change "long overdue" and would mean the government "can finally take the actions needed to protect our people from the most deadly of all consumer products."
The House passed similar legislation in April by a vote of 298-112. President Obama, a former smoker who has struggled to kick the habit, has indicated he is eager to sign a final measure into law.
Forty-five years after the first United States surgeon general's report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, anti-smoking advocates say tobacco is among the least-regulated products in America.
Currently the FDA is authorized to impose consumer-health protections on a wide array of products including food, drugs, cosmetics and even dog food — but not tobacco.
Tobacco use kills an estimated 400,000 Americans per year, and costs the nation $96 billion annually in health-care bills.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called regulation of tobacco "long overdue" and "an enormous achievement for America's health."
"This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States," the group said in a press release. "If effectively implemented, it will significantly reduce the number of children who start to use tobacco, the number of adults who continue to use tobacco and the number of people who suffer and die as a result."
More than 1,000 public-health, religious and other groups joined in supporting the legislation, including both the American Baptist Churches USA and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, national coordinator of public and social advocacy for American Baptist National Ministries, was involved in "Faith United Against Tobacco," a diverse interfaith coalition of religious leaders that worked with legislators earlier this year to get tobacco legislation introduced to Congress.
"We believe our nation’s leaders have a moral obligation to do all they can to protect Americans, particularly children, from tobacco addiction and the health consequences of smoking," Ramsey-Lucas said. "Passage of this legislation and its implementation by the FDA will, in no small measure, move our nation forward in achieving this goal."
Ramsey-Lucas called Senate passage of the bill "a victory for children today and for those of future generations."
The Bush administration opposed giving the FDA authority over tobacco, claiming it would overburden the agency and send a false message that tobacco products winning FDA approval are safe.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.