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Lawmakers Renew Efforts for Government Regulation of Cigarettes

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With support from a president who has been trying to kick the habit, lawmakers renewed their efforts Monday to require government regulation of cigarettes.

President Obama has been an occasional smoker who acknowledged recently that quitting has not been easy. While in the Senate last year he co-sponsored legislation that would have given the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products, to reduce the harm from smoking.

The broadly popular legislation passed the House of Representatives last year but faced a veto threat from then-President George W. Bush and did not get a vote in the Senate.

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, who has fought for years for government regulation of tobacco products, announced plans Monday to reintroduce the legislation.

After Congress' session was abbreviated Monday due to snow, the bill's reintroduction was delayed until Tuesday. Waxman planned to bring the bill to a vote Wednesday in the Energy and Commerce Committee, which he chairs, and said he was optimistic it would become law during this session of Congress.

Advocates were pleased.

"Federal government oversight is necessary to hold the industry accountable," said Nancy Brown, head of the American Heart Association. "We hope this will lead to swift congressional action."

Opponents of the legislation have contended the FDA is not up to the job.

"I believe it's going to gut the agency's resources and distract it from its core mission," said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute and a deputy FDA commissioner during the Bush administration.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, also a Democrat, who chairs the Senate's health committee, plans to reintroduce a Senate version of the bill in coming weeks. Last year his bill had 60 co-sponsors, including Obama, enough to overcome a procedural delays that could kill the legislation if effective. Even more Democrats are in the Senate now, probably increasing the likelihood of passage.

While the legislation would not let the FDA outlaw tobacco or nicotine, the agency could demand the reduction or elimination of cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke. The bill would prohibit candy flavored cigars and cigarettes, and would give the FDA authority to ban menthol.

The bill that advanced last year was a compromise between major tobacco control groups and Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company.