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Congress to renew FDA tobacco authority fight for Smokeless nicotine

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Democrats in the U.S. Congress plan to renew efforts, possibly as soon as next week, to give the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over cigarettes, three congressional aides said on Friday.

Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy is expected to take the lead in the Senate by introducing a bill to give the FDA broad sway over tobacco products, aides said.

With the Democrats in power on Capitol Hill, Kennedy now chairs the committee that would consider the bill.

California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman is expected to file a similar bill soon in the House of Representatives. Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis is planning to be a co-sponsor with Waxman, the aides said.

“This legislation has broad bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. We fully expect the Congress to consider the legislation quickly and we’re hopeful it will pass with overwhelming support,” said Bill Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an activist group.

The Senate passed legislation a few years ago to give the FDA tobacco authority, but a companion House measure died.

“We think the Kennedy legislation will be similar to bills that the Massachusetts senator has introduced into the last two Congresses,” said Stanford Group Co. tobacco Smokeless nicotine  industry analyst Mark McMinimy in a January research note.

Kennedy included FDA regulation of tobacco products on a list released late last year of his top priorities for the new Congress.

Past bills have proposed steps such as setting new limits on tobacco advertising; banning use of terms such as “light” and “mild” in cigarette branding; banning sale of cigarettes with flavors such as strawberry and chocolate; increasing the size of warning labels on cigarette packs; and giving the FDA power over cigarette ingredients and new tobacco products.

Tobacco company Altria Group, which owns Philip Morris USA and makes Marlboro cigarettes, this week expressed continued support for giving the FDA authority over tobacco.

“PM USA and Altria have been supportive of FDA for a long time now. And we hope that it (legislation) will see the light of day going forward, because we believe firmly that it’s in the interest of the overall tobacco industry,” said Altria Chief Executive Officer Louis Camilleri on a webcast with analysts this week.

Other companies that stand to be affected include Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and Loews Corp.’s Lorillard Tobacco Co. unit.

“Reynolds has said generally we would support adoption of responsible national regulation that would maintain our ability to effectively compete in the domestic market,” said Tommy Payne, a spokesman for Reynolds American Inc.

Industry skeptics have said any further limits on advertising could help cement the market share of top manufacturers such as Philip Morris, which sells about half of the nation’s cigarettes.

North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr told the Winston-Salem Journal two weeks ago he would oppose any move in the Senate to allow the FDA to regulate cigarettes.

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