WASHINGTON -- Landmark legislation that would give the federal government the power to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products passed an early hurdle yesterday.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill, 38-12.
The measure would allow the Food and Drug Administration to review new tobacco products before they could go on sale, limit advertising and restrict sales to youths. It would also enable the agency to regulate levels of tar, nicotine and other ingredients.
Fees imposed on tobacco product makers and importers would pay for the FDA's new oversight.
"Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and this legislation will help address this enormous public health problem," said committee Chairman John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.
The FDA first asserted that it had authority over tobacco products in 1996, but four years later, the Supreme Court rejected the agency's initiative.
Ever since, backers have been pushing Congress to pass legislation expressly granting the authority. More recently, Philip Morris and some other tobacco companies have expressed support.
"Despite all the death and disease tobacco products cause, they are exempt from basic health regulations that apply to consumable products, drugs and even dog food," Daniel E. Smith, president of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, said in a statement praising yesterday's committee vote.
The full House is expected to vote on the bill this spring.
The Senate is considering similar legislation, which the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved in August.
All three leading presidential contenders are co-sponsors of the Senate measure, and support for the House measure is said to be strong, but the legislation's passage is far from certain.
President Bush opposed an early version of the legislation. The FDA's commissioner, Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, objected to the agency deciding whether a cigarette was safe.