Page last updated at 21:52 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 22:52 UK

Congress backs tobacco clampdown

Smoker (file image)
Some 440,000 Americans die of smoking-related illnesses each year

The US House of Representatives has backed a bill introducing tough new curbs on the tobacco industry.

The House passed the bill by 307-97, a day after it was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate. It now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.

The bill gives the US Food and Drug Administration strong powers to regulate the content and marketing of tobacco products.

It has been hailed as a milestone in the history of tobacco regulation.

About one in five Americans smoke, and the habit kills some 440,000 every year.

I am a non-smoker, but I think this is way out of line. The federal government has no business in people's business
Matt, BBC News website reader, Houston, Texas, USA

But tougher regulation has been stiffly opposed by the industry and tobacco's political backers.

Until now, tobacco has been more lightly regulated than cosmetics or pet food, and previous attempts at FDA regulation were struck down by the Supreme Court as requiring congressional approval.

The bill will "make history", President Obama said on Thursday after it was passed by the Senate by 79-17.

He may sign it into law as early as Friday.

Advertising targeted

The bill empowers the FDA to:

  • Limit nicotine levels - though not banning nicotine or cigarettes entirely
  • Attempt to limit the appeal of smoking among young people, by limiting the use of flavours, restricting advertising in publications targeting young people, and banning outdoor tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet (300m) of schools
  • Require tobacco companies to get FDA approval for new products
  • Bar terms such as "light" or "mild" in tobacco packaging which imply a smaller risk to health, and introduce graphic new health warnings of packets

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that FDA regulation could reduce underage smoking by 11% over the next decade, and adult smoking by 2%.

Paying for the new regulation is likely to end up adding to the cost of cigarettes.


Repeated efforts by supporters of greater regulation of the tobacco industry have been fiercely resisted for years by the industry and lawmakers from tobacco-producing states.

1964: Surgeon general's report alerts many Americans to the health risks of smoking - and its links to lung cancer - for the first time
1971: Tobacco advertising banned on TV and radio
1988: Surgeon general reports nicotine is an addictive drug
1988: Smoking banned on US domestic flights under two hours; later extended but only applied to all domestic flights in 1998
1990s: FDA tries to regulate nicotine as a drug, but Supreme Court strikes this effort down in 2000, saying it requires congressional backing

This time, the country's biggest tobacco firm, Philip Morris, supported the bill - though rivals suggested that was because restrictions on new products would protect the company's market share.

Observers said the bill was one of the most momentous milestones in the history of smoking since the 1964 surgeon general's report highlighted the hazards it posed to health.

About 20% of Americans smoke - a statistic that has declined in recent years, as in many developed nations.

But in some countries smoking remains much more prevalent - for example, 50% of Namibians smoke, 47% of Mongolians and 44% of Turks, according to the World Health Organization.


The days when this rogue industry could inflict its harmful products on Americans with impunity are drawing to a close. This is an enormous victory for public health.

The New York Times, in an editorial, hails the legislation.

Is this good news, or another link in Obama's perpetually growing socialist chain? Is there ANYTHING these folks CAN'T take over or regulate if THEY believe it's in OUR best interest?

The conservative bloggers at suspect the president's ideological motives for supporting the new tobacco rules.

If the tobacco model repeats itself, it may be a while before something -- whatever that something is, because there is no consensus - gets done [about obesity].

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder considers the implication of the tobacco vote for the fight against obesity.

If Philip Morris likes this bill, how much can it really do to control cigarette consumption and protect public health?

Jonathan Adler, writing at the National Review, wonders how much sway America's largest tobacco firm had in the drafting of the tobacco legislation.

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