- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Add Big Tobacco to the list of the vanquished.

As he signed a law that makes tobacco companies submit to Food and Drug Administration regulation, President Obama on Monday said it’s yet another special interest he and fellow Democrats have brought to heel so far in his young administration - joining credit card companies, home mortgage lenders and defense contractors as businesses that needed stricter government oversight.

“When I ran for president, I did so because I believed that despite the power of the status quo and the influence of special interests, it was possible for us to bring change to Washington,” he said in signing the bill in the White House Rose Garden. “And the progress we’ve made these past five months has only reinforced my faith in this belief.”

With a flick of the pen, Mr. Obama - a smoker himself who still “struggles” every day with his addiction, according to the White House - ensured that the landscape for cigarette manufacturers will look dramatically different in just a few years: no more candy-flavored cigarettes, no more cool T-shirts or other marketing gimmicks and no more sporting-event sponsorships.

Under the law, for the first time, the FDA will have the job of regulating tobacco, which means the agency can eventually require bigger warnings on packaging, force companies to remove harmful additives and crack down on “misleading” labels, such as those for “light” or “mild” cigarettes.

The president called the bill a step in a long fight against tobacco companies, which he bundled with other “special interest” targets.

But Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria Group, the parent of major cigarette company Philip Morris USA, said that comment seems misplaced because the company backed the bill.

“It’s important to remember we supported this,” Mr. Phelps said. “We’ve supported federal regulation of tobacco products through the years.”

Not all tobacco companies did, though. Another major manufacturer, R.J. Reynolds, argued that the FDA is already overburdened and that more emphasis should be placed on educating smokers about ways to reduce harm if they choose to continue to smoke.

The bill received strong support from both parties. It passed the House 307-97 and in the Senate overcame an attempted filibuster on a 67-30 vote, then passing 79-17.

Mr. Obama said it’s part of his special influence-busting work, following a law to limit credit card companies’ abilities to impose fees or increase rates; a law to stop mortgage fraud; and a law that streamlines Defense Department procurement, which he said was aimed at combating abuse from defense contractors.

The White House said the tobacco bill sets some deadlines:

• By October, cigarettes known primarily for their candy, spice or fruit flavors will be banned.

• by January, tobacco companies will have to give the FDA a list of each product’s ingredients and additives, nicotine content and health information.

• By April, the FDA will issue regulations banning tobacco companies from sponsoring sporting or entertainment events using brand names and prohibiting companies from selling or giving away clothing with brand names or logos.

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