- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Senate easily overcame a last legislative hurdle Wednesday to a bill that for the first time would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products.

The bill advanced toward almost certain passage in a 67-30 vote that ended the possibility of a filibuster. A final vote could come as early as Wednesday night.

The action brings anti-smoking groups and their allies in Congress a step closer to a goal that has eluded them for at least a decade: granting the FDA authority to impose new rules on the production, sale and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

“Every day that we delay having the FDA take on this responsibility and begin controlling the marketing and sale of these products, we run the risk of more and more children starting the habit,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a lead sponsor of the bill.

The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have some oversight of the sale of tobacco products, which are largely exempt from the scrutiny that has been standard for food, drugs and other consumer products.

The Connecticut Democrat said that 3,000 to 4,000 children start smoking every day, 1,000 become addicted, and about half of those smokers eventually die of smoking-related illnesses.

Mr. Dodd noted that about 400,000 people a year die of the “self-inflicted wound” of smoking

A similar bill passed the House last month and President Obama, a smoker himself, has signaled his willingness to sign the measure into law.

The bills also would require stronger warning labels and prohibit marketing cigarettes with terms such as “light” or “mild” that critics say mislead people into thinking the product is safer.

Previous attempts to expand government control of the tobacco industry failed in the face of stiff resistance from the tobacco lobby and President George W. Bush. But this time, the bill got unexpected support from Virginia-based Philip Morris USA, the country’s No. 1 tobacco company.

The next two largest tobacco companies, North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., argued that changing regulations now would preserve R.J. Reynolds’s share of the market and give it an unfair business advantage.

The bill was sponsored by longtime anti-smoking advocate Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who is battling brain cancer and did not attend the vote.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said members cast their votes with Mr. Kennedy in mind.

“His dogged determination to reduce the number of smoking deaths in this country has brought us to this moment,” Mr. Durbin said before the vote.

Opposition to the bill was led by the chamber’s North Carolina senators, Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr, whose state is the country’s top tobacco producer.

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