BEIJING, Feb. 26 (Xinhuanet) -- Smoking and anti-smoking advocates and the U.S. Congress are bracing for another war over industry regulation, but Marlboro Cigarettes maker Philip Morris USA has dOne an about face and now favors a bill that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, but not ban them.
Analysts say Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris is protecting its dominant market share, cutting legal risks and making regulation More pRedictable, possibly paving the way for new tobacco products with less health risk.
On the other side, sMaller competitors, such as Camel and Kool Cigarettes maker Reynolds american Inc., are fighting not to get left behind by a bill some call the "Marlboro Monopoly Act."
"They don't want the clock to stop and be stuck at 10 percent market share with Camel," said tobacco analyst Gregg Warren of market research firm Morningstar Inc.
The bill has been introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy and Texas Republican John Cornyn in the Senate, along with California Democrat Henry Waxman and Virginia Republican Tom Davis in the House.
It has 29 co-sponsors in the Senate and 96 in the House. Republican House leaders who blocked its consideration two years ago are out of power.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Kennedy has scheduled a hearing on the bill with testimony by public health witnesses for Tuesday.
"Congress has debated the issue of FDA authority over tobacco for nearly a decade. It is time to finish the debate and take action," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The bill now pending would empower the FDA to regulate tobacco, to restrict tobacco advertising, to prevent sale of Cigarettes to minors, to require stronger warning labels, to bar misrepresentation of tobacco's dangers, and to order removal of harmful ingRedients from Cigarettes.
In addition, it would set standards for "Reduced risk" tobacco products, which could not be marketed as safer than regular Cigarettes without FDA verification.
"We believe FDA regulation ... could be characterized as a good thing for the industry. However we continue to believe there will be vehement opposition," said Christopher Growe, a tobacco analyst at brokerage A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc.
"Any advantages of FDA regulation would accrue mostly" to Philip Morris, Growe added.
As the dominant U.S. cigarette group with control of half the market, Philip Morris could absorb the added costs of FDA regulation More easily than sMaller rivals, analysts said.
Philip MorrisЎЇmarket share would also be protected from challengers if the FDA mutes rivalsЎЇadvertising, they said.
Finally, regulation could pave the way for products that pose less risk. Here too, Philip Morris may have an edge.
"We believe (Philip Morris USA) is far ahead of its peers on developing a Reduced risk product," Growe said.