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    Congress Plans for Early Tobacco Attack

    Legislation could be signed as early as this month on issues such as increasing the federal excise tax on smokes.

    WASHINGTON -- In the coming months, Congress plans to take action on a number of legislative issues surrounding the tobacco industry, The New York Times reported, citing aides for key lawmakers and experts who expect the new Obama administration to break a logjam on several smoking issues.

    The issues at hand are ones the Bush administration opposed, vetoed or declined to act upon, but President-elect Barack Obama supported as a senator.

    One of the areas is legislation giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over cigarettes.

    “We hope for early action on the bill in the new Congress," Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, told the Times. Kennedy has promoted such legislation for years, according to the report.

    In the House of Representatives, Henry A. Waxman of California, a Democrat, plans to move quickly on the FDA legislation, according to his spokeswoman, Karen Lightfoot. A majority of House and Senate members are co-sponsors, and Waxman’s former chief of staff, Philip M. Schiliro, was named Obama’s White House liaison to Congress, the newspaper reported.

    Robert Gibbs, Obama’s spokesman and incoming press secretary, told the Times via e-mail Sunday that Obama supported the measures when he was in Congress, but had not made any decisions yet about further actions.

    Another issue on the block for Democratic leaders in Congress is increasing the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents per pack, to $1. Moreover, this proposal could be among the economic measures awaiting Obama’s signature as soon as he takes office Jan. 20, according to Congressional aides and anti-smoking lobbyists cited by the paper.

    The tax is projected to raise $35 billion in new revenue over five years, and would help finance the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. President George W. Bush vetoed the cigarette tax increase in 2007. As a senator, Obama co-sponsored the measure, and his campaign lists it among planned actions for revamping health care, according to the paper.

    “That should go quickly," said Edward L. Sweda, a senior lawyer with the Tobacco Products Liability Project at the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. "It’s easy to do first on a fast track and provides the additional benefit of health benefits for millions of children."

    In addition, Congressional aides and lobbyists on both sides expect Obama to submit an international tobacco control treaty to the Senate for ratification. The U.S. is one of two populous countries -- the other is Indonesia, a major tobacco producer and consumer -- that have not yet ratified the treaty, known as the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the report stated.

    The pact’s main provisions include advertising restrictions, health warnings and tobacco taxes, which are already in place in the U.S. However, the treaty would go further to exclude industry executives from policy making, according to the report.

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