Senate urged to give FDA power to limit nicotine levels

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration should be able to limit nicotine levels in cigarettes, as well as require stronger health warnings on packages and in advertising, legislators considering a bill to allow the agency to regulate tobacco products were told by experts yesterday.

"FDA regulation will help us to combat the vicious marketing practices of a deceptive industry that has preyed upon our children, minorities and existing smokers who are desperately trying to kick their habit," Dr. Elmer Huerta, the incoming president of the American Cancer Society, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

Similar legislation passed the Senate in 2004 but was defeated in the House. Supporters believe that the new Democratic majorities in both chambers will smooth passage now.

But one committee member, Sen. Michael B. Enzi, argued that asking the FDA to set standards for tobacco products implies that they can be safe. About 400,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related ailments, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The FDA approves cures, not poisons," the Montana Republican said. "Forcing the FDA to regulate tobacco but not letting them ban it would undermine the long history of the agency protecting and promoting the public health."

The legislation, introduced this month in both chambers with bipartisan support, would require tobacco companies to submit "reduced-risk" products to the FDA for inspection and disclose all ingredients. It would also ban manufacturers from using terms such as "light" or "low-tar," which the bill's supporters say have misled consumers by indicating that such products are less harmful.

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