Tobacco Bill Passes the Senate

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act approved in a similar form in the House earlier this year, passed the Senate yesterday. The legislation will allow the federal government broad authority over tobacco products, said the Washington Post, and allow regulators to control <"">cigarette packaging and marketing as well as how much nicotine is added in tobacco products. Nicotine is the addictive component in cigarettes.

There are about 443,000 deaths and $100 billion in healthcare costs linked to tobacco use in the United States every year.

The measure passed with an overwhelming majority of 79-to-17 and now moves to the house, where it could potentially receive its final vote today, said the Washington Post, which noted that President Obama said he will sign it. President Obama is a smoker who has publicly discussed his struggle with the habit.

It has taken five decades since the surgeon general first warned about tobacco’s negative health effects, the Washington Post noted, largely because of industry opposition and government red tape. In 1965, congress required warning labels on cigarette packs, which were updated in 1984. Now, the legislation includes more intense warnings; a ban on many flavorings meant to enhance the smoking experience; ingredient disclosure; strict marketing practices; and nicotine content regulation, for the purpose of creating a less addictive—potentially nonaddictive—product.

Much of the legislation works to prevent children from smoking, said the Washington Post. For instance, it explained, fruit flavorings and cartoon characters are included in the ban. An $89 billion industry, big tobacco is known to flavor cigarettes with tastes such as cherry and to use the cartoon character, Joe Camel, to lure children to the highly addictive and deadly habit.

The bill would also enable the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to ban most of the dangerous chemicals—about 6,000—used in cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products, said the Washington Post. Regarding marketing and advertising, the measure requires expanded warning labels—to account for 50 percent of the pack—and graphic images of the dangers of smoking, reported the Washington Post, citing, for example, pictures of diseased lungs.

As part of the marketing restrictions, tobacco product makers will no longer be permitted to use verbiage such as “light,” “mild,” and “low” without scientific proof; with proof, such makers would be able to label products less harmful, said the Washington Post. The LA Times wrote earlier this week that, based on research, light cigarettes offer no health benefits over nonlight cigarettes.

A new tobacco center, to be part of the FDA, will also be funded with industry fees under the legislation, added the Washington Post.

The bill gives the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products, but does note that, “consumers are likely to be confused and misled” and might misunderstand, thinking such regulation means products are safer, when they are not, noted previously. Also, designed with the help of cigarette giant, Philip Morris, noted the LA Times earlier, the measure does not enable the FDA to ban cigarettes or nicotine.

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