The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted 13-8 to empower the FDA to regulate tobacco products. States and municipalities have spent years shoving cigarettes out of the public domain, but the FDA would be able to control cigarette advertising, mandate bigger, European-style warning labels, and regulate nicotine content. Only Congress has the power to ban cigarettes outright. From the Boston Globe:
Yesterday’s slim majority however, came as Republican-sponsored amendments loom that could gut the bill’s main intent.
Such opponents as Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, a tobacco-producing state, offered dozens of amendments at the committee level and promised more from the Senate floor to chip away at the bill’s scope. Kennedy rejected most of the amendments, saying they would undermine the legislation.
Burr has said that he may offer his own bill or use procedural tactics to stall Kennedy’s measure on the Senate floor. He also chastised the excise tax increase as a mechanism to fund children’s healthcare and expand FDA staffing sufficiently to regulate tobacco.
“The honey pot right now is tobacco excise taxes. The fact is, they’ll find, if they implement those, that there will be a reduction in tobacco usage,” Burr said in a recent interview. He said the move would imperil state budgets that rely on tobacco taxes to ease shortfalls.
Senator Michael B. Enzi, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, denounced the bill as “fundamentally flawed” and said it merely locks in place Philip Morris’s dominant market share.
“If this bill is good for Big Tobacco, how can it be good for public health?” said Enzi, whose mother and father died smoking-related deaths. “The fact is it can’t. This bill is nothing more than a Marlboro Protection Act.”
53 Senators, including 12 Republicans, are cosponsoring the bill. 60 votes are needed to secure a final vote on the Senate floor.