Senate HELP Committee Convenes Hearing on Tobacco Regulation

On February 27, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and ranking member Michael Enzi (R-WY), held a hearing to address the need for FDA regulation of tobacco products.

On February 27, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and ranking member Michael Enzi (R-WY), held a hearing to address the need for FDA regulation of tobacco products. Readers may be familiar with this issue from an article in last month's SPIN, but since then, exciting progress has been made.

In mid-February, both chambers introduced tobacco legislation, garnering significant press attention and much bipartisan support. The primary sponsors of HR 1108, which currently has 97 cosponsors, are Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Tom Davis (R-VA). In the Senate, S 625 is sponsored by Senators Kennedy and John Cornyn (R-TX), and already enjoys the bipartisan cosponsorship of 30 Members.

The legislation would give the FDA power to strengthen the enforcement of bans on tobacco sales to minors and restrict advertising, but could not ban nicotine in cigarettes. Another provision requires that tobacco companies submit their marketing claims to the FDA for verification, especially for claims that "light" cigarettes are less harmful. The FDA would also have the ability to require the removal of toxic ingredients from most cigarettes "to the extent that it becomes scientifically feasible." Furthermore, it would be mandatory that warning labels on cigarette packs be larger, covering up to 50 percent of the pack area.

The standing-room-only hearing provided enlightening testimony from multiple stakeholders, including APA Fellow Jack Henningfield, a veteran of FDA tobacco hearings and a pioneer in the psychopharmacology of nicotine addiction. Dr. Henningfield's testimony revolved mainly around the scientific rationale for tobacco regulation.

Opposition to the bill expressed by senators at the hearing included arguments such as: Why regulate tobacco instead of outright banning it? Wouldenactment of this legislation shield tobacco companies from liability? Doesn't the FDA already have too much on its plate?

Senator Kennedy says he anticipates a markup of the bill in the near future, with HELP Committee passage and full Senate passage following soon thereafter. In 2004, the Senate voted 78-15 to add FDA regulation language to a corporate tax bill, but this language was dropped in conference with the House. Although the main opponents of this bill are no longer in power in the House, there is still the possibly of a presidential veto, if Congress manages to get a bill to President Bush's desk.