WASHINGTON — Saying it's time to attack the nation's most preventable health problem, a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed sweeping legislation Thursday to alter the way tobacco products are labeled, marketed and sold in the United States.
Despite years of failed attempts by the FDA and Congress to regulate tobacco, proponents say prospects for the new legislation appear bright.
Although More than 400,000 Americans die every year from tobacco-related diseases, the government has little power, beyond requiring a health warning on cigarette packs, to control how tobacco products are made and sold. The legislation unveiled Thursday would give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products.
House and Senate leaders are behind the proposal. And the alliance of supporters cuts across the political spectrum, including liberals such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and conservative Republicans such as Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and John Cornyn of Texas.
In addition to Cochran and Cornyn, eight other Republican senators are co-sponsors. That means they and the Democrats would have the 60 votes needed to stop any effort to block the legislation in the Senate. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the bill's chief sponsors.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., pRedicted it would pass the House by a 2-1 margin.
Identical bills introduced in the House and Senate would authorize the FDA to:
n Issue regulations aimed at preventing youth smoking and Reducing addiction to tobacco products.
n Regulate how Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are sold, distributed and advertised. It could restrict advertising aimed at children.
n Limit cigarette sales to face-to-face transactions in which the buyer's age can be verified. This would end sales from vending machines.
n Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of their products.
n Require larger and More graphic warning labels.
n Bar health claims about products that have not been scientifically verified.
n Prohibit the use of terms such as "light, "ultralight" and "low-tar."
n Require companies to change tobacco products to remove harmful ingRedients or Reduce nicotine.
The FDA would not have the power to ban tobacco products, lawmakers said.
"We tried that once before with alcohol — it didn't work," Cornyn said.
Public-health groups back the measure, as does the nation's largest cigarette maker, Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris. Steven Parrish, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Altria, said the company believes it "offers the best way to advance real solutions to the many complex issues involving tobacco."
David Howard, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said his company opposes the bill because it would give Philip Morris an unfair market advantage.