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WASHINGTON -- The Senate approved a bill to give the government broad new powers to regulate the tobacco industry, including the ability to eliminate harmful ingredients in tobacco products and forbid advertising that appeals to children, reported the Associated Press.
The measure empowering the Food and Drug Administration to oversee the sale, marketing and manufacturing of cigarettes was linked on the Senate floor Thursday to a $12 billion buyout of tobacco farmers.
An unlikely coalition of anti-smoking advocates and tobacco-state senators pushed to secure the 78-15 vote to add the twin measures to a massive corporate tax bill that the Senate then passed on a voice vote and sent to a House-Senate conference committee.
The House-passed tax bill includes a plan to pay tobacco farmers to leave the federal tobacco-growing system but does not give FDA any new powers. Health groups hailed the Senate action.
"This is the first time that any body of Congress has ever passed a bill giving the FDA authority over tobacco," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The fact that tobacco state members supported its passage could represent a sea change in attitudes if they continue to support it in conference."
Under the proposal, health warnings on cigarette packs would be made larger and would more explicitly state the dangers associated with smoking.
The FDA could not ban cigarettes. It also could not eliminate nicotine, though it could call for major reductions in the amount of the addictive substance found in tobacco products. The agency could order the removal of other harmful ingredients.
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who crafted the FDA measure with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the public would for the first time get details about what's in tobacco products. Under current law, there are very limited disclosure requirements placed on tobacco companies.
"Current law makes sure we know what's in products designed to help people quit smoking, like the patch or Nicorette gum, but not the very products that get people addicted in the first place to cigarettes themselves," DeWine said.
Marketing terms such as "light" and "ultra-light" would be prohibited unless the FDA approved them. Studies have shown those cigarettes haven't reduced health risks faced by smokers.
Philip Morris USA is the only major tobacco company to support FDA regulation of cigarettes. Company executives say it could better communicate with customers about new, safer products in a regulated environment with clear, uniform rules.