Congress Passes Tobacco Regulation Bill

A woman smokes outside of a building in New York City. i i

The Legislation that Congress approved Friday requires stronger warning labels on tobacco products and prohibits the use of the words "mild" and "light," which leave the impression that the products are safer. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A woman smokes outside of a building in New York City.

The Legislation that Congress approved Friday requires stronger warning labels on tobacco products and prohibits the use of the words "mild" and "light," which leave the impression that the products are safer.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Legislation that grants the federal government broad regulatory powers over tobacco products is on the way to President Obama's desk, after Congress passed a bill giving the FDA oversight of everything from the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to packaging and marketing.

The House, which first passed a similar FDA bill in April, voted 307-97 Friday to endorse the version passed 79-17 by the Senate a day before. Obama, a smoker who has tried to quit, has said he will sign the measure into law.

Under the new law, most flavored tobacco products — which tend to attract young smokers — would be banned, as would advertisements that use Joe Camel and other cartoon characters that might appeal to children. It also requires stronger warning labels and prohibits the use of the words "mild" and "light," which leave the impression that the products are safer.

The president thanked lawmakers for passing legislation to protect children and the public after years of work by Republican and Democratic leaders.

"For over a decade, leaders of both parties have fought to prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children and provide the public with the information they need to understand what a dangerous habit this is," he said during a news conference at the White House Rose Garden. "After a decade of opposition, all of us are finally about to achieve the victory with this bill, a bill that truly defines change in Washington."

The measure also gives the Food and Drug Administration the ability to examine the ingredients that go into tobacco products and ban any that are judged to be health hazards. In addition, the FDA will be able to fast-track products that would help people kick the smoking habit.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), who guided the bill to passage in the Senate, praised the legislation as a step toward curbing smoking by young people and saving lives.

"For 50 years, the tobacco industry has successfully fought the ability to regulate tobacco products, and yet 3,000 to 4,000 kids start smoking every day in this country; 400,000 a year die," he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, 443,600 people in the U.S. die from tobacco-related illnesses each year — and at least 30 percent of cancer deaths are caused by cigarette smoking. Smoking also causes about 87 percent of lung cancer deaths, as well as cancers of the larynx, mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder.

Using smokeless tobacco in any form is a major health risk, the organization said.

John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, said in a statement that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is a historic victory for public health officials.

"Every day, 3,500 children pick up their first cigarette and 1,000 become addicted smokers," Seffrin said. "This legislation has the power to help so many more people celebrate birthdays because they will never get addicted to tobacco in the first place."

Material from NPR wire services was used in this report.

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