House Approves Bill Allowing FDA To Regulate Tobacco; Bill Would Ban Additives But Not Menthol
The House on Wednesday by a veto-proof 326-102 vote approved legislation (HR 1108) that would give FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products, the New York Times reports (Saul, New York Times, 7/31). The measure, introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), would allow FDA to ban flavored additives, with an exemption for menthol flavoring (Yoest, Wall Street Journal, 7/31).
Some black anti-smoking advocates criticized the exemption, noting that many black smokers use metholated cigarettes (New York Times, 7/31). The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network withdrew its support for the bill because of the menthol exemption (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Florida Times-Union, 7/30).
Seventy-five percent of black smokers use mentholated tobacco products. Menthol brands account for about 28% of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market.
It is thought that menthol and other additives might mask the harshness of tobacco, which could make it easier for teenagers to begin smoking. Researchers also have questioned whether menthol plays a role in disproportionate rates of cancer related to smoking among blacks. A recent study from Harvard University found that some cigarette makers intentionally "manipulated menthol levels to attract young people" (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 7/31).
To gain support from the Congressional Black Caucus, a provision was added to the measure that mandates a scientific advisory committee study the effects of menthol flavoring and issue a recommendation within one year. FDA also would have to produce an action plan on the advertising and promotion of menthol and other cigarettes to young people, particularly those in minority communities.
Lorillard Tobacco Company in a statement said it opposed the bill but "welcomes the provision in this bill that calls for a scientific review of menthol in cigarettes." Lorillard produces Newport cigarettes, the leading menthol brand. According to the company, research to date has not found that menthol cigarettes are more dangerous or addictive than cigarettes without menthol, the Times reports.
More Bill Details, Legislation's Future
Under the bill, FDA would not be allowed to eliminate nicotine from tobacco products or ban all tobacco products, though it would be able to reduce amounts of nicotine if it thought doing so would benefit public health (New York Times, 7/31).
The Senate version of the bill (S 625) "face[s] some formidable obstacles in the Senate, including a tight time frame in which to act," CQ Today reports (Armstrong , CQ Today, 7/30). The measure, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), has 56 co-sponsors in the Senate. Melissa Wagoner, a spokesperson for Kennedy, said that they are waiting for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the bill to the Senate floor (Armstrong , CQ Today, 7/30). Sponsors of the bill said they hope the Senate will consider the bill after the August recess. Regan Lachapelle, a Reid spokesperson, said that scheduling decisions for September have not yet been established (Armstrong , CQ Today, 7/30).
The Bush administration opposes the legislation, the Washington Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 7/31). The White House, in its statement of administration position, said that allowing FDA to regulate tobacco products could "lead the public to mistakenly conclude some tobacco products are safe." The administration also said that the fees levied to pay for FDA regulation of the products would amount to a "new tax that would be paid disproportionately by low-income individuals" (Armstrong , CQ Today, 7/30). White House officials also said the bill could affect international trade agreements by banning some imported tobacco products (Washington Post, 7/31).
Most public health groups support the measure, according to the Times (New York Times, 7/31). Philip Morris USA supports the measure, but other tobacco companies oppose certain provisions (Simon, MediaGeneral/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/30).