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WASHINGTON -- The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed legislation earlier this week that would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the tobacco industry. In the wake of the passage, NACS -- the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing, emphasized the fight it made for retailers last year to achieve a number of amendments in the bill, and the subsequent withdrawal of its opposition to the legislation.
"We walked in [to meetings with lawmakers] confident we were in opposition to the FDA bill," NACS Chairman Sonja Hubbard, who is also CEO of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart Stores Inc., told reporters in a press conference yesterday. "We expected some warm and affirmative responses -- we didn't get that … We were told this is going to happen."
After being told the possibility of amendments were slim to none, the organization was able to negotiate a few measures to level the playing field between Native American, Internet retailers and convenience stores. "We made great strides in spite of what we were told, but we still left with our hat in our hand," Hubbard added.
The FDA legislation, named the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, was passed Wednesday night in a 39-13 vote, according to a Bloomberg News report. The bill, backed by Philip Morris USA parent Altria Group Inc. and President Barack Obama, would restrict tobacco marketing to minors, add warnings to cigarette packages, and require the FDA to monitor ingredients and new products, the report stated.
"Regulating tobacco is the single most important thing that we can do right now to curb the deadly toll of tobacco, and FDA is the right agency to do the job," Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the committee’s chairman and bill's sponsor, said in the report.
Others in the tobacco industry, including Reynolds American Inc. and Lorillard Inc., oppose the legislation, stating restrictions would perpetuate the dominance of Philip Morris USA, the report stated. Reynolds also holds the position that the FDA won’t do enough to encourage development of less-harmful tobacco products, spokeswoman Maura Payne told Bloomberg News.
NACS withdrew its opposition last year after reaching concessions with Waxman, who at the time, was not the committee chairman. Representative John Dingell, who was the committee chairman, had been convinced by fellow congressmen to "mollify adverse affects to retailers in the bill," explained Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of government relations for NACS. Because of this Dingell brought NACS and Waxman together to discuss changes to the legislation, and NACS reported it received all of the concessions it requested except for one -- giving the states the ability to regulate tobacco retailing, not the FDA, he said, adding "We took a bad bill and tried to lessen the impact on retailers."
To ensure the changes remained in the bill, NACS was required to withdraw its opposition to the bill.
However, this does not mean NACS supports or approves of the bill. And retailers hold a similar view.
"As a retailer I'm far from happy with this FDA legislation, but I do think NACS made the right choice given the cards it was dealt," said Tom Robinson, president and CEO of c-sotre chain Rotten Robbies, and vice chairman of government relations for NACS. "We believe just saying no wouldn’t have been as productive as identifying some very important pieces and finding out is here was palace we could compromise."
And with Waxman as the chairman, Beckwith said the previous actions taken with the FDA bill may help future issues.
"The majority of issues affecting c-stores go though this committee," he said. "We were faced with a situation where we did not have a good relationship in the past with Waxman, and now he is chairman. A byproduct of all this is we have a foothold in, and a mutual trust in this FDA experience."
The FDA legislation now moves to the full House. Similar legislation was proposed in the Senate by Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. However, his health has limited his involvement, and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut is assisting on both the banking and health committees. As such, NACS was unsure of when the Senate may approve a similar measure, although it said when a proposal is introduced, it will be similar to the House legislation, as "anything controversial will cause a hiccup," Beckwith said.