WASHINGTON, DC—Tight controls on tobacco advertising and mandates to change the contents of cigarettes will be one step closer now that the Senate has passed S 982 (HR 1256), The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The bill passed the House in April of this year. 

In previous years, versions of the legislation have been passed by the Senate and the House, but so far neither body has passed a bill with identical wording. This legislation now goes to a conference committee between the House and Senate to resolve what the American Thoracic Society (ATS) calls “minor differences between the House and Senate versions.” It will then be sent to President Obama for his signature. As an Illinois Senator, Barack Obama cosponsored earlier versions of this legislation, and this year the administration issued a statement of support for HR 1256, a move that all but ensures a presidential signature. 

In a release to the press, John Heffner, MD, past president of the ATS said, “It is time that attention is drawn to the long time, intentional targeting of children by the tobacco industry. We have too long tolerated the industry’s efforts to cultivate smokers at a yound and vulnerable age to guarantee profit for tobacco producers.”


“Today marks an historic culmination of a more than 20-year journey to provide the food and drug administration (FDA) urgently needed regulatory control over the tobacco industry,” added Paul G. Billings, American Lung Association (ALA) vice president for policy and advocacy. “This long overdue legislation will protect kids and reduce the terrible human and financial burden caused by tobacco use in this country.” 


In a press release issued Thursday, the ALA urged the House of Representatives to quickly pass the Senate version while also calling for continued pressure on the tobacco industry. “While we celebrate this notable victory, we recognized that we have yet to win the war,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the ALA. “As the FDA tobacco legislation continues its way to the President’s desk for signature, we will also continue our work for higher tobacco taxes, smoke free laws, and funding of tobacco control and prevention programs at the state level to reduce tobacco use and save lives”


Weighing in at hundreds of pages, the bill specifically amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to provide for the regulation of tobacco products by the Secretary of Health and Human Services through the FDA. Backers of the bill say the FDA’s new authority will likely spark changes in tobacco products, possibly requiring companies to take out harmful carcinogens and reduce the amount of nicotine.


These restrictions, combined with new marketing limitations, will place tobacco companies under even tighter regulatory control. “The lung association strongly supports the provisions of the legislation that prohibit and inhibit the tobacco companies from preying on children, whom they have called their replacement generation,” says Erica Sward, director of national advocacy for the ALA. “This legislation will really strike at the heart of their business model. We believe the advertising provisions within the legislation, and the restrictions they put on the tobacco companies, will finally get to the heart of how the industry hooks children and attracts that new generation of smokers.”


Prior to the House passage on April 2, 2009, the bill had garnered 178 cosponsors, 13 of whom were Republicans. The final House vote was 298-112 in favor. Sward says passage of the bill would culminate a nearly 20-year effort by the ALA and other groups to give the FDA regulatory authority over manufactured tobacco products.


In 1996, the FDA asserted jurisdiction over tobacco products, but a 2000 US Supreme Court ruling struck it down. According to Sward, the court essentially agreed that the tobacco problem should be addressed by the FDA. However, until Congress actually gave the authority to the FDA, the court said the agency could not legally assert jurisdiction. With Congressional approval imminent, proponents expect to clear this final legal hurdle and obtain a speedy presidential signature.