Tobacco bill unlikely to pass this year
WASHINGTON (AP) — Landmark legislation that would give federal health authorities the power to regulate the tobacco industry is unlikely to pass this year.
The House overwhelmingly approved the bill this summer, and a majority of senators, including presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, support the legislation. But President Bush has threatened a veto, and the prospect of a drawn-out debate will probably keep the Senate from taking up the measure as it races through a tight schedule this month, senior congressional officials of both parties said.
Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the bill's leading sponsor, said supporters have not given up, but acknowledged the legislation faces an "uphill" battle. Kennedy is being treated for a brain tumor and isn't expected back at the Senate this year.
The legislation would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco, from cigarettes to new kinds of smokeless products. The agency could not outlaw tobacco or nicotine, but it could require the reduction or elimination of cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke.
"There is tremendous support for this bill, but it is competing with a compressed Senate schedule," said William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The legislation continues to pick up support, Corr said, and even if the Senate does not act this year, "it's passage is inevitable."
The bill has the backing of most public health groups and Philip Morris USA, the country's largest tobacco company, which is looking to create a new market in federally certified, reduced risk products.
Bush says having a public health agency regulate tobacco would send the wrong message.