Obama signs tobacco bill, raps ‘special interests’

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• By July 2011, warning labels on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products will have been enhanced, with warnings taking up the top portion of each package.

The goal, the president said, is to try to reduce smoking, particularly by keeping children from starting.

“I was one of these teenagers. And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time,” Mr. Obama said.

Still, the White House was coy about Mr. Obama’s own addiction. Despite the attention the bill signing was bound to bring to Mr. Obama’s own experience, his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said he had failed to check in with Mr. Obama recently on his habit.

The enthusiasm for cracking down on tobacco companies was strong.

“We are making it harder for those companies to target our children and making it easier for those who smoke to overcome their addictions while we also make tobacco products less toxic for those who cannot or do not want to stop,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The FDA is expected to take a deliberate approach to issuing regulations. A spokeswoman said the FDA had no schedule for how it would proceed.

Washington’s battle with tobacco regulations stretches back decades. In the 1980s, smoking on domestic flights was banned, and in the 1990s, restrictions on smoking in federal buildings passed. States also fought the companies, winning what was known as the Master Settlement Agreement in the late 1990s, which required tobacco companies to pay more than $200 billion over three decades to compensate for tobacco-related costs to Medicaid.

Mr. Obama said during those fights tobacco companies “spent millions upon millions” on lobbyists to walk the halls of Congress trying to block legislation, and he said that’s why Monday’s law was so remarkable.

“Despite the best efforts and good progress made by so many leaders and advocates with us today, the tobacco industry and its special-interest lobbying have generally won the day up on the Hill,” he said, pointing back to 1994 congressional hearings, when tobacco executives denied knowledge their projects were harmful.

“Fifteen years later, their campaign has finally failed,” he said. “Today, change has come to Washington.”

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