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FDA likely to regulate tobacco

FDA to regulate tobaccoAfter winning sizable majorities in both House and Senate this week, a new bill would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco. President Barack Obama, who has called it a way to "protect our kids and improve our public health," is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

The Office of the Surgeon General issued a report [pdf] back in 1964, asserting that tobacco's "potential hazard is great… cigarette smoking contributes substantially to mortality from certain specific diseases and to the overall death rate." But in the intervening years, the $89 billion tobacco industry has eluded strict regulation. Annually, smoking ups U.S. health care costs $100 billion and continues to kill about 400,000.

The bill is on its way to Obama, who has promised to sign it promptly, reports The Washington Post. "We've known for years, even decades about the harmful, addictive and often deadly effects of tobacco products," Obama said earlier today—despite being an erstwhile smoker himself.

Although the new law wouldn't allow the FDA to outlaw nicotine or smoking altogether—which many worry would drive users to an unregulated black market—legislators anticipate stronger controls of both the advertising and manufacturing of cigarettes. It will, for instance, mandate ingredient listings and may nix many of the roughly 6,000 detrimental chemicals found in tobacco products. The new charge would be added to the FDA's list of responsibilities, which currently include food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics and veterinary products, among others.

Earlier this year, Obama named former director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids William Corr as Department of Health and Human Services deputy secretary.

Image of warning labels on Canadian cigarettes courtesy of stovak via Flickr. The new legislation would mandate similarly graphic labels for U.S. cigarette packs.

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