Stringent new anti-smoking law in USBy: JIM ABRAMS
WASHINGTON – Congress struck the US government’s strongest anti-smoking blow in decades on Thursday with a US Senate vote to give regulators new power to limit nicotine in cigarettes, drastically curtail ads and ban candied tobacco products aimed at young people.
Cigarette foes say the changes could cut into the 400 000 deaths every year caused by smoking and reduce the US$100 billion in annual health care costs linked to tobacco.
President Barack Obama’s expected signature on the legislation would add tobacco to other huge, nationally important areas that have come under greater government supervision since his presidency began. Those include banking, housing and autos. Still to come, if Congress can agree: health care.
The legislation, one of the most dramatic anti-smoking initiatives since the US surgeon general’s warning 45 years ago that tobacco causes lung cancer, would give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the content, marketing and advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” declared Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.
The 79-17 Senate vote sends the measure back to the House of Representatives, which in April passed a similar but not identical version.
Supporters of FDA regulation of tobacco have struggled for more than a decade to overcome powerful resistance – from the industry and elsewhere. In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the agency did not have the authority under current law to regulate tobacco products, and the George W Bush administration opposed several previous efforts by Congress to write a new law.
Thursday’s legislation gives the FDA power to evaluate the contents of tobacco products and to order changes or bans on those that are a danger to public health. The agency could limit nicotine yields but not ban nicotine or cigarettes.
Regulators could prohibit tobacco companies from using candy or other flavours in cigarettes that tend to attract young smokers, and restrict advertising in publications often read by teenagers.
Rules on sales to minors would be toughened, as would warning labels. Tobacco companies would have to get FDA approval for new products, and would be barred from using terms such as “light” or “mild” that imply a smaller health risk.
Costs of the new programme would be paid for through a fee imposed on tobacco companies.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that FDA regulation could reduce underage smoking by 11 per cent over the next decade. There are more than 40 million smokers in the United States.
The bill, said American Heart Association chief executive Nancy Brown, “provides a tremendous opportunity to finally hold tobacco companies accountable and restrict efforts to addict more children and adults”. – Nampa-AP
– On the Net: Congress: thomas.loc.gov