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The federal agency charged with keeping food and drugs from harming people may soon be asked to take a consumer product that kills more than 400,000 people a year and make it safer. Its a legislative move that deserves strong public support.

Since 2000, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Food and Drug Administration did not have the authority to regulate tobacco, legislation has been introduced in Congress every year that would give it that right. Last year, the legislation passed the House but died in the Senate after President Bush threatened to veto it. Last week, the House passed similar legislation but Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from South Carolina is threatening a filibuster.

Moderate Republicans in the Senate should help pass the bill this year.

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Cigarettes are generally acknowledged as being anything but safe. Smoking accounts for nearly one in five deaths in the United States. The bill would let the FDA regulate the levels of tar, nicotine and other harmful components of tobacco products. Cigarette smoke alone contains some 4,000 chemicals, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer.

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