Senate HELP Panel Begins Mark Up of Bill Placing Tobacco Under FDA Oversight
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday began marking up a bill (S 982) that would allow FDA to regulate tobacco products, CongressDaily reports. The bill would allow FDA to place larger, color warning labels about the health risks of smoking on cigarette packs, as well as to regulate the marketing of tobacco products and advertising to children. The agency could not ban tobacco products or eliminate nicotine from cigarettes, but it could regulate their production and ban flavored cigarettes other than menthol. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said, "Over the years, this bill has been reviewed; it has been vetted; it has been debated, over and over and over again. The time has come to act." The House in April passed its version of the bill, 298-112 (Hunt, CongressDaily, 5/20).
The committee by voice vote approved an amendment proposed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would give FDA priority to review products that contain nicotine, such as candies. Committee ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) proposed two amendments, one that would have given regulatory authority over tobacco to CDC and another that would have ordered FDA to study which flavors to ban, instead of a current provision that bans specific flavors. Both amendments were defeated. Enzi said, "I think the FDA is the wrong regulator. It approves cures, not poisons."
The only Democrat who opposed the bill was Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.), who said the measure would harm the tobacco industry in her home state (Armstrong, CQ HealthBeat, 5/19). The panel's other member from North Carolina, Sen. Richard Burr (R), said he would filibuster the bill. He said, "I put my fellow senators on notice: This is something that will be a much longer time on the floor than it will be in this hearing" (CongressDaily, 5/20). The committee plans to continue marking up the bill Wednesday and possibly Thursday.
The Obama administration has expressed its support for the bill (CQ HealthBeat, 5/19). FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg also has said her agency should regulate tobacco (Armstrong, CQ HealthBeat, 5/18).