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The United States Senate yesterday voted overwhelmingly (79-17) in favor of "The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control" bill, which will give the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the responsibility for regulating the sale, production and marketing of tobacco products.

The Senate bill now must be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives – a process that could happen as soon as today. Once that occurs, the bill goes to the desk of President Barack Obama, who has promised to sign it.

According to the MSNBC story, “cigarette makers will no longer be able to advertise near schools or sponsor entertainment or sporting events. Also, larger warning labels will be required. And claims on packs like ‘low tar’ or ‘light’ will be prohibited because those could falsely suggest a healthier cigarette.”

The New York Times reports that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that “the new law would reduce youth smoking by 11 percent and adult smoking by 2 percent over the next decade, in addition to reductions already achieved through other actions, like higher taxes and smoke-free indoor space laws.” The new law, the Times writes, “stops short of empowering the FDA to outlaw smoking or ban nicotine - strictures that even most antismoking advocates acknowledged were not politically feasible and might drive people addicted to nicotine into a criminal black market. But the law would give the FDA power to set standards that could reduce nicotine content and regulate chemicals in cigarette smoke. The law also bans most tobacco flavorings, which are considered a lure to first-time smokers.”

It is expected in some circles that once the bill becomes law, it will be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds as infringing on freedom of speech.

KC's View:
While I worry that the FDA may be stretched too thin by these new responsibilities, I firmly believe that this is the right thing to do. Tobacco is nothing if not a drug, and it is a drug that kills…and my heart breaks a little bit every time I see a young person smoking a cigarette, because I simply don't understand.

As always, I need to say that I have no objectivity on this issue. My mother died of lung cancer after being addicted to cigarettes for more than three decades. (She finally quit…but less than five years later was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread everywhere. She survived for more than three years because she was a tough broad – I say that with love – but I cannot ever forget what tobacco did to her, and what she did to herself by using it since she was a teenager.) If one thing positive came out of her addiction, it was that my six brothers and sisters and I never smoked…it was just too disgusting a habit that repulsed us all. My kids don't smoke, because they saw their grandmother shrivel up in front of them.

If FDA regulation can stop just some kids from smoking, and save some families from having to go through this, then it is a good thing.