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House approves FDA regulation of tobacco

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives voted convincingly July 30 to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products.

Representatives voted 326-102 for the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, H.R. 1108. A two-thirds vote was required to pass the measure under the rules of the House.

The legislation would authorize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to control the manufacture, promotion and sale of such products as cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

Supporters of the bill hailed the House action after years of working for its passage.

“It is far past time for the lethal product of tobacco to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “It is unconscionable that every substance that is taken to try to quit smoking is regulated by the FDA, but tobacco is not. Approximately 400,000 Americans die every year as a result of their addiction to tobacco.

“I applaud the courage of the 326 House members, Democrat and Republican, who supported this bill bringing tobacco under the regulation of the FDA in spite of the attempts at pressure brought to bear by the tobacco lobby,” Land told Baptist Press.

The measure not only would give the FDA oversight over the production, marketing and sale of tobacco products, but it would ban candy-, fruit- and spice-flavored cigarettes. Backers of the bill especially are hopeful it will result in a reduction in smoking by teenagers.

The legislation faces a more difficult challenge in the Senate, as well as at the White House.

The Bush administration released a statement July 30 expressing opposition to the bill. If Congress sends the bill to the president, he will be advised to veto it, according to the statement. The White House said it supports attempts to reduce smoking, but it said the bill would burden the FDA, conflict with the agency’s responsibility to regulate drugs and establish a regressive tax.

Some House opponents of the legislation made similar arguments during debate July 30.

Nearly all Democrats voted for the bill. The Republicans were almost evenly divided. Democrats voted 230-3 for the measure while the GOP voted 99-96 against it.

The ERLC’s Land commended a Republican leader from a tobacco-producing state for voting for the bill. “The floor speech by Eric Cantor, congressman from Richmond, Va., in support of this bill was particularly courageous,” Land said.

Cantor, who is the GOP’s chief deputy whip, said more than 6,000 jobs in his district are directly related to the production of tobacco.

The three Democratic opponents were Reps. Joe Baca of California, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and Heath Shuler of North Carolina. Davis and Shuler are members of Southern Baptist churches.

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed tobacco-related resolutions dating to 1932. A 1984 resolution urged churches and other SBC entities to encourage Southern Baptists not to use tobacco. It also called on Southern Baptist farmers not to raise tobacco but to grow another crop when feasible. In 2005, the SBC adopted a resolution urging an increased effort to reduce smoking by teenagers.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.