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Senate Passes Tough Tobacco Controls

For the first time since Americans began smoking, the federal government is about to control how tobacco products are made, marketed and sold in the United States.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 79-17 to give the federal Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products blamed for killing 400,000 people every year.

"Joe Camel will be given a life sentence and put away forever," declared Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

The vote for regulation was bipartisan and well more than the 60 votes needed for passage.

A nearly identical bill already passed the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she believed supporters of the legislation in her house would be able to accept the Senate bill and send it on to President Barack Obama for his signature. A House vote is likely today (Friday).

Obama, who has admitted to his own struggle with smoking, said he looked forward to signing the bill.

He issued a statement saying the tobacco regulation measure "will make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps that will reduce tobacco's harmful effects and prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children."

The president said Americans spend nearly $100 billion annually on health care costs related to smoking, while each day about 1,000 youths under 18 start the habit.

"My administration is committed to protecting our children and reforming our health care system — and moving forward with common-sense tobacco control measures is an integral part of that process," Obama said.

Some provisions of the bill would take effect as soon as 90 days after enactment. Other steps could take two years or longer.

The FDA would begin assessing fees Oct. 1 on tobacco manufacturers and importers to pay for the agency's additional staff and regulatory functions. Those fees would total $235 million in 2010, and reach $712 million in 2019, after which the assessments would remain at that level.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., handled the legislation for Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer.

"I don't know of another vote in the last number of years as important," Dodd said in the final moments of Senate debate on the tobacco bill. And with discussions under way on reforming the nation's health care system, "what better way to begin that debate," he said.

Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., said the bill had shortcomings, but it "will make it difficult for kids to get tobacco, to start smoking, and that is the important thing."

Kennedy issued a statement: "Miracles still happen. The United States Senate has finally said 'no' to Big Tobacco. Decades of irresponsible delay are finally over."

About 1,000 organizations, including physicians, public health and faith-based groups and unions backed the FDA bill, which advocates have been trying to push through Congress for more than a decade.

"Forty-five years after the first U.S. Surgeon General's report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, the most deadly product sold in America will no longer be the least regulated product sold in America," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.

"This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States," he said. "If effectively implemented, it will significantly reduce the number of children who start to use tobacco, the number of adults who continue to use tobacco and the number of people who suffer and die as a result."

Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, supported the tobacco regulation bill passed by the Senate on Thursday.

Philip Morris was the only major tobacco company to back the measure.

Altria said that while it had constitutional concerns about restrictions on advertising and marketing, the bill on balance would benefit adult smokers.

"We believe that adult consumers should be the primary beneficiaries of a federal regulatory framework: (1) under which all tobacco product manufacturers and importers doing business in the United States would operate at the same high standards; (2) for the pursuit of tobacco product alternatives that are less harmful than conventional cigarettes; and (3) that should provide for transparent, scientifically grounded, and accurate communication about tobacco products to consumers," the company said.

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