House Approves Plan to Give FDA Regulatory Power Over Tobacco

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved sweeping legislation to bring tobacco under control of the Food and Drug Administration for the first time. 

The vote was 298-to-112, with more than 60 Republicans joining majority Democrats in backing the legislation. 

However, at least eight Democrats bucked their party and voted against the bill. 

Under the bill, the Food and Drug Administration would be able to regulate, but not ban, cigarettes and other tobacco products. The FDA could make ingredients public, ban flavoring and prohibit marketing campaigns.

The plan would bolster tobacco warnings on cigarette packages and could require firms to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes.

The Senate could take up its version of the bill later this month. Supporters are confident they can get Senate passage and President Obama's signature on the bill. 

"This vote brings us closer to putting a deceitful and dangerous industry under the watchful eyes of government regulators," American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement.

The bill was sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who in 1994 summoned the heads of big tobacco to a memorable hearing where they testified that nicotine was not addictive. 

Opponents from tobacco-growing states such as top-producing North Carolina argued that the FDA had proven through food safety failures that it's not up to the job. They also said that instead of unrealistically trying to get smokers to quit or prevent them from starting, lawmakers should ensure they have other options, like smokeless tobacco. 

That was the aim of an alternate bill offered by Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., who would leave the FDA out and create a different agency within the Health and Human Services Department. His proposal failed on a 284-142 vote. 

Buyer pointed out that Waxman's bill is supported by the nation's largest tobacco company, Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA. Officials at rival tobacco companies contend the Waxman bill could lock in Philip Morris' market share. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.