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Senate passes bill increasing FDA power over tobacco products

  • Story Highlights
  • Family Smoking and Tobacco Control Act passes Senate 79-17
  • Aide says House will vote Friday on accepting the Senate bill
  • President Obama says he looks forward to signing the bill
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bill that increases the power of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products cleared the Senate on Thursday.

The Senate voted Thursday on a bill giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products.

The Senate voted Thursday on a bill giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products.

"Miracles still happen," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, in a statement posted on his Web site. "The United States Senate has finally said 'no' to Big Tobacco. Decades of irresponsible delay are finally over. Today's landmark vote will save millions of children from a lifetime of addiction and premature death. Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that enactment of this legislation is the most important action Congress can take to reduce youth smoking."

The Senate voted 79-17 for the measure, which is similar to a bill already passed by the House of Representatives.

An aide to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the chamber will vote Friday on accepting the Senate bill, which would send the measure to President Obama for his signature.

Obama said the measure was historic for "giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps that will reduce tobacco's harmful effects and prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children," according to a White House statement.

The statement said Obama looks forward to signing the bill. The president has acknowledged he has had difficulty quitting smoking.

Most Senate opposition came from tobacco-producing states, including Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In a break from tradition, the two senators from Virginia -- another tobacco state -- supported the measure, indicating a shift in the state's politics.

Altria Group, which owns Philip Morris USA, the nation's biggest cigarette company, called the vote "an important step forward on this legislation."

But it expressed "First Amendment reservations about certain provisions, including those that could restrict a manufacturer's ability to communicate truthful information to adult consumers about tobacco products."

No immediate response was available from R.J. Reynolds, the maker of Camels, but it has in the past said the legislation would perpetuate Philip Morris' position as the industry's sales leader.

The vote set off a wave of elation among public health groups. In a written statement, the president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Matthew Myers, called the vote "a truly historic victory for America's children and health."

The statement noted that the vote comes 45 years after the U.S. surgeon general first linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer, and exulted that "the most deadly product sold in America will no longer be the least regulated product sold in America."

It said the law will give the FDA the power to restrict advertising, stop illegal sales of tobacco products, require graphic health warnings that cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packs, ban misleading health claims such as "light" and "low-tar," regulate health claims, require disclosure of the contents of tobacco products, require changes in tobacco products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates tobacco use results in 443,000 premature deaths and another 8.6 million serious illnesses in the country each year.

About 43.4 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes, which carries an annual economic burden of $96 billion in medical costs and another $97 billion in lost productivity, according to the agency.

The American Cancer Society predicted the vote "will finally put an end to Big Tobacco's despicable marketing practices that are designed to addict children to its deadly products."

The American Thoracic Society said the move would "fundamentally redefine the way the United States regulates tobacco."

The American Public Health Association also applauded the Senate, predicting the legislation "will protect the health of Americans, particularly children."

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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