Senate Could Vote Today On Tougher Tobacco Legislation
The Senate could vote today on tougher tobacco laws that would give the Food and Drug Adminstration power to regulate tobacco.
USA Today reports that "after more than a decade of debate, Congress is poised to approve the most sweeping effort ever to regulate tobacco products. The Senate could pass a bipartisan bill as early as today that would require larger health warnings on cigarette packs, ban candy flavorings, ban the use of claims such as 'light,' 'mild' and 'low tar, and further restrict tobacco advertising. On Monday, the Senate voted to end debate, a crucial step toward passage. In April, the House approved a similar bill giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco." The Family Smoking and Tobacco Control Act comes after "more than two dozen states have passed comprehensive laws to ban smoking in public places and most have raised tobacco taxes," USA Today reports. "The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says tobacco use remains the nation's top cause of preventable death, killing more than 400,000 Americans and costing $96 million in health care bills each year."
The tobacco industry has long resisted regulation, but has recently been weakened. Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette maker, embraces regulation along with major health groups and many senators. North Carolina's senators, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan, along with the second and third largest tobacco makers, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard, oppose the bill (Koch, 6/8).
Politico reports that the bill "advanced in the Senate on Monday amid growing pressure for the House to quickly accept the final product and lock up a long-sought victory for anti-smoking forces - and for President Barack Obama. Seven Republicans joined 52 Democrats on the 61-30 roll call to cut off debate on the measure.... To win over hesitant Republicans on the cloture vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged that he would work to ensure that tobacco state lawmakers still have a chance this week to present their alternative regulatory scheme - which is now technically out of order. The narrowness of Reid's margin - a supermajority of 60 was required - reflects the dicey politics of the Senate. But going forward, proponents of the bill are in the driver's seat, and passage is all but assured in the next few days." Politico also notes that "to help pay for the new FDA regulatory role, the [tobacco] industry will be subject to user fees beginning at $235 million next year and tripling to $712 million over the next decade" (Rogers, 6/9).
The Associated Press also reports that Monday's "Senate action was critical because, under Senate rules, it ended the possibility of senators offering amendments, some highly controversial, that are not relevant to the FDA regulation issue" (Abrams, 6/8)
Reuters reports on Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan's decision to drop one such amendment to the tobacco legislation that would allow importation of lower-priced medicines. The bill "would allow U.S.-licensed pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import FDA-approved medicines from Canada, Europe and some other areas and provide cost savings to consumers. Patients also could purchase prescription drugs for personal use from FDA-inspected Canadian pharmacies... President Barack Obama already has asked Congress to give the FDA $5 million to develop policies to allow Americans to buy medicines approved in other countries. Drugmakers strongly oppose importation, saying it puts Americans at risk of being exposed to counterfeit drugs." The importation measure will be considered separately (Richwine and Berlowitz, 6/8).