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WASHINGTON -- While lawmakers are currently debating whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should have authority over tobacco products, a recent Washington Post poll of the general public found that two-thirds of respondents support the proposal being considered in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the Houston Chronicle reported.
In addition, 45 percent of smokers said they support FDA oversight, the report stated.
For seven years, supporters have tried to give the FDA the power to regulate tobacco, the report stated. However, President George W. Bush firmly opposes the measure. Last week, he said "nicotine is not a drug to be regulated under FDA."
The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Ma.), has 51 co-sponsors: 37 Democrats, 12 Republicans and both Senate independents.
The committee debated several amendments to the bill on Wednesday. Yesterday, the committee approved an amendment that would require graphic pictures of damaged lungs, hearts and teeth covering at least 50 percent of cigarettes' packaging, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
"A picture is worth 1,000 words," Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wy.), who sponsored the graphic-warning amendment, told the newspaper. "This is a test to see if we really want to do cessation or to see if cigarettes will still sell."
However, Enzi opposes the bill in its current state, and planned to offer more amendments to alter a bill he believes is fatally flawed.
"I've read all 168 pages. I can tell you that it will neither prevent families from smoking nor effectively control tobacco," he told the Journal, noting that his mother and his mother-in-law died as a result of smoking.
In addition, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), was also expected to offer numerous amendments to the bill. On the first day of debate, he offered two amendments that he said would have made the bill stronger.
One of the amendments would have changed the language of the bill from "public health," to language that speaks to children's health, the report stated.
Democrats objected to the amendment because it could create a loophole for cigarette companies to advertise in a manner that could ultimately appeal to children, even if it was targeted for adults, according to the Journal report.
Burr also proposed amending provisions about tobacco products with reduced risk claims. Under the current bill, the FDA would have broad authority to determine whether a product presented a reduced risk. Burr proposed the FDA should rely on studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The current bill would establish a new department within the FDA to regulate tobacco. The cost of the new program is estimated at $450 million, and would be supported by a 2.5-cent user fee on cigarette packs.
"Not a single dollar will be diverted from FDA's existing priorities," Kennedy said in an effort to quell concerns from members that the FDA is stretched too thin.
Tomorrow, the committee is expected to approve the bill, according to a report in USA Today.