Senators propose new tobacco agency

March 11, 2009 10:31:54 AM PDT
Saying that the Food and Drug Administration is "ill equipped and unsuited to regulate tobacco and tobacco products," Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Senator Kay R. Hagan (D-NC) offered what they call "a reasonable, bipartisan alternative to the proposed FDA tobacco regulation."What they want is an entirely new Federal Tobacco Regulatory Agency separate from the FDA.

“I am opposed to giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco. The FDA is overburdened already, and lacks the capacity or the expertise to take on a large, complicated new industry," said Hagan in a news release.

The senator's move comes after a House committee approved legislature that would put cigarettes under government FDA regulation for the first time.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act wouldn't let the FDA ban tobacco or nicotine, but it could reduce or eliminate cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke. It would also outlaw candy-flavored cigars and cigarettes and give the FDA authority to ban menthol.

"Congress should act quickly to pass the bi-partisan Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which has the support of the American Lung Association and almost 1,000 health, medical, faith and children’s organizations," said the American Lung Association in a statement emailed to Eyewitness News. "Tobacco-caused diseases are the leading cause of preventable death in the United States – killing 442,000 Americans each year, including over 12,000 North Carolinians."

The senators pointed to the recent recall of thousands of potentially salmonella contaminated peanut products as evidence of problems with the FDA. They say the tobacco industry employs some 65,000 people in North Carolina.

"I will not stand idly by while the FDA is put in charge of such a critical industry to North Carolina,” said Hagan. “I am offering this alternative and will work with my colleagues to garner additional support.”

But the American Lung Association said it believes the FDA should be in charge of tobacco regulation.

"We believe the Food and Drug Administration is the only agency with the scientific and regulatory experience to address tobacco," it said.

The Bush administration opposed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, but President Obama is in favor - making it more likely to pass. According to published reports, some cigarette makers like Philip Morris have been supportive, but others like R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard are not.

Under Hagan and Burr's proposal, the Federal Tobacco Regulatory Agency would enforce new and existing federal rules governing tobacco products. All tobacco makers selling in the U.S. would be required to register, and user fees would fund the agency.

But the American Lung Association says the senators attempt to create a brand new federal agency is a bad idea.

"The American Lung Association opposes this ill-advised and unworkable approach. We do not believe this bill will appropriately address the tremendous human and financial burden caused by tobacco use in this nation," it said.


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