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WASHINGTON -- A year ago, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay played a key role when House negotiators killed a Senate plan for sweeping new federal regulation of the tobacco industry, reported the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch .
Now that DeLay has temporarily stepped down, some activists are asking whether the interim GOP leadership -- including tobacco-friendly Rep. Eric I. Cantor of Virginia -- may view new controls differently.
Cantor, the chief deputy majority whip, is the House GOP leadership's "point person" on tobacco issues, a spokesman for Rep. Roy Blunt, the acting majority leader, emphasized last week to the Times-Dispatch .
The Virginian's 7th District includes the Henrico County headquarters for giant cigarette-maker Philip Morris USA. It has pushed hard for Food and Drug Administration regulation of cigarette marketing in recent years, according to the report.
When DeLay, R-Texas, relinquished his No. 2 House leadership post under indictment, Majority Whip Blunt, R-Mo., was elevated to take DeLay's duties and Cantor was given enhanced responsibilities.
According to the Times-Dispatch , Cantor and Blunt downplayed any impact that Tom DeLay’s temporary removal from his post in the House would have on prospects for proposals to have the FDA regulate tobacco.
"I don't anticipate a change in the prospects," Burson Taylor, a spokesman for Blunt, wrote in an e-mail, according to the Times-Dispatch .
"The dynamics for legislation on FDA regulation have not changed, even given the current situation," Cantor spokesman Geoff Embler told the newspaper.
"Congressman DeLay is still around. The leadership still relies on his advice since he has 10 years' experience in leadership," Embler explained in the report.
Nonetheless, it may be months until it is determined whether the Texan returns to his former post.
William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that DeLay "was the major opponent to passing FDA legislation in the last Congress. It is unclear whether his current situation will change how the House deals with FDA regulation of tobacco."
A leading smoking foe and co-sponsor of FDA legislation, Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, predicted little change soon.
"Tom DeLay lost his formal title but will continue to exert extraordinary power, so I think it's unlikely the Republican Congress will pass common-sense tobacco legislation anytime soon," Waxman said in a statement.
John F. Scruggs, a lobbyist for Philip Morris USA's parent company, Altria Group, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the House leadership change "absolutely does not" alter prospects for FDA oversight proposals.
DeLay was indicted on campaign-finance charges in Texas. He has denounced them as unfounded and politically motivated, according to the report.