WASHINGTON – The government could impose tough new restrictions on cigarette manufacturers (search) under a plan that key lawmakers agreed on Thursday.
The Food and Drug Administration (search) would be given authority to regulate tobacco, allowing it to ban certain ingredients in cigarettes and other products under twin bills, summaries of which were obtained by The Associated Press.
Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have been haggling over the details of the legislation for the past several months, after a near-deal collapsed last fall. House sponsors are Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
The legislation forbids the FDA to ban cigarettes and says the agency can reduce but not eliminate nicotine.
Use of the terms "light" and "ultra-light" would be prohibited in advertising unless the FDA approved them. Studies have shown those categories of cigarettes haven't reduced health risks faced by smokers.
The legislation would be paid for by assessing a fee on tobacco companies.
Industry leader Philip Morris USA (search) supports FDA regulation. Company officials have said it would help the company market new tobacco products to consumers.
The other major manufacturers oppose FDA regulation, saying new advertising restrictions would prevent them from capturing any of Philip Morris' market share.
Senate lawmakers from tobacco states who previously fought FDA regulation now say they would support it in exchange for support of a measure that would pay tobacco farmers to leave the federal system that sets price and production controls on U.S. leaf.
Farmers say they want out of the system, which in recent years has dramatically restricted the amount of tobacco they can sell.
Lawmakers say the buyout measure could be linked to the FDA legislation on the Senate floor.
In the House, there is talk of adding a farmer buyout to a corporate tax bill likely to be considered next month. However, House GOP leaders have been cool to the idea of FDA regulation.
The issue has gained attention in both chambers in recent weeks following a statement by President Bush in Ohio in which he said he did not think the tobacco program needed to be changed. That caused a furor among tobacco farmers and politicians in the South.
Asked about tobacco regulation, the president repeated a stance that the emphasis ought to be on preventing teens from smoking.
Following Bush's remarks, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts came out in favor of the buyout and FDA regulation.
The FDA asserted authority over cigarettes in 1996, but the Supreme Court later ruled that only Congress can give the FDA that power.