FDA would regulate tobacco under new legislation

April 30, 2008

Congress is looking to give the Food and Drug Administration the controversial and complex job of controlling tobacco marketing and advertising. FDA would not be able to ban cigarettes or require zero nicotine products, under legislation recently approved by a key House committee. But it would gain authority to approve cigarette labeling, limit certain promotional claims and curb marketing to minors. The measure provides legal authority for a regulatory approach devised more than 10 years ago under former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, but subsequently struck down by the courts.

Congress is looking to give the Food and Drug Administration the controversial and complex job of controlling tobacco marketing and advertising. FDA would not be able to ban cigarettes or require zero nicotine products, under legislation recently approved by a key House committee. But it would gain authority to approve cigarette labeling, limit certain promotional claims and curb marketing to minors. The measure provides legal authority for a regulatory approach devised more than 10 years ago under former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, but subsequently struck down by the courts.

Since then, a coalition of health groups, antismoking organizations and Democratic legislators have pushed for legislation to firmly establish federal control over tobacco marketing. To offset concerns raised by the Bush administration and FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach that the agency lacks the resources to take on such a heavy new burden, the bill authorizes new user fees to support the program. Tobacco companies would contribute some $85 million in the first year and increasing fees thereafter. Marlboro producer Philip Morris, part of the Altria Group, supports FDA regulation, while Reynolds American and others oppose it. Some Republicans may try to block the legislation if it moves forward. The White House has stated opposition to the measure, but President Bush might not want to veto a bill to curb smoking as he leaves Washington.