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Assign FDA duty to regulate tobacco


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POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

Only days after a huge increase in the federal tobacco tax took effect, the U.S. House has overwhelmingly approved a bill to assign the Food and Drug Administration the job regulating the industry. The legislation, which includes a ban on flavored cigarettes intended to entice children, is long overdue.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled nine years ago that the FDA does not have the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug, despite the major health problem it causes. The House approved a measure late last year to give it that authority but it languished in a Senate committee as then-President Bush threatened a veto. President Barack Obama supports the measure.

The House approved a similar measure last week. Opponents are threatening a Senate filibuster, which would need 60 votes to overcome. However, last year's bill was sponsored by 60 senators, and Democrats — its main proponents — have gained seven seats since then.

Proponents were disturbed two years ago about the deletion of a provision banning the use of flavors designed for the peddling of cigarettes to children. R.J. Reynolds tried several years ago to market "Kauai Kolada" and "Hawaiian Hints of Pineapple and Coconut." The provision is in the current version and it could be extended by FDA to include menthol flavoring.

The federal tax on cigarettes rose on April 1 from 39 cents to $1.01 a pack, and the state Legislature is considering an increase of 40 cents a pack on July 1. That will boost the retail price of a pack to more than $8 and should drive many smokers to dial 1-800-QUITNOW.