Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tobacco regulation to likely pass next year

A proposal to give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products appears dead for the year, but anti-smoking advocates say they expect it to pass in 2009.

The measure passed the House this summer with overwhelming support, but a threat from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to block it and a veto threat from the White House helped stall it in the Senate.

The Senate
left town last week without bringing it up for a vote and is unlikely to do so even if lawmakers return after the election.

William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a public-health advocacy group, said he expects shifts in the political landscape will ensure passage in 2009.
Unlike President Bush, both John McCain and Barack Obama strongly support giving the FDA the authority to restrict tobacco marketing and set standards for nicotine levels in cigarettes.
And an increase in support for the measure in the Senate this fall will make it harder for Burr to block the bill next year, Corr said.

The bill attracted its 60th co-sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, late last month. That number is significant because if Burr and others attempt to block or delay the bill by filibustering it, 60 votes are required to move it to a vote.

“But for Sen. Burr, we think this legislation probably could have passed this year,” Corr said. “There’s no question this bill will pass next year. It’s inevitable.”
Many in the public health community say the measure would reduce smoking rates and cut down on tobacco-related deaths.

But some opponents say government oversight could mislead the public into thinking smoking is safe. And others, including Burr and the current FDA head, say the agency is too burdened with other activities to add tobacco to its portfolio.
“Nobody’s been able to answer the question of how FDA regulation would make tobacco products safer,” said Chris Walker, a spokesman for Burr.

Even if he cannot block the legislation next year, Burr “will make sure there’s a long and healthy debate on this issue if it were to come to the floor,” Walker said.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., the bill’s lead sponsor, said she expects a vote
in 2009.

Opponents of the legislation - including Reynolds American- say predictions of certain passage are too optimistic.
“Clearly this past Congress seemed to be their best opportunity to date to pass this bill. It didn’t happen. The basic question is why?” said Tommy Payne, executive vice president for public affairs for Reynolds.

Tobacco control groups say they simply ran out of time. The bill did not pass the House until late July. .

The Senate left shortly after that vote for summer vacation. When lawmakers returned in September, other more pressing issues - including the financial rescue package - trumped a vote on the FDA bill, said Paul Billings, vice president of national policy advocacy for the American Lung Association

The fact that Reid signed up to co-sponsor the measure in late September is “a good indication that it’s on the ‘unfinished business’ list from the last Congress” and will be taken up early next year, Billings said.

“We don’t want to take anything for granted. But we’ve done all the work we can do, and we’re in a position for it to pass next year,” he said.

No comments: