WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration would have the power to eliminate nicotine from cigarettes and would be required to give smokers detailed information about brands under a bill being circulated by two powerful Republican senators.
This is the second version that Sens. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, have brought to colleagues, health groups and tobacco companies. The bill would give the FDA authority over tobacco products.
Gregg chairs the Senate Health Committee, which oversees the FDA. DeWine is a senior member of the panel. The committee is scheduled to consider the bill Thursday.
The FDA tried to regulate cigarettes in 1996, but the Supreme Court ruled it couldn't do that without congressional approval.
"It's ridiculous to have food products regulated, and the FDA has no authority over a very dangerous product," DeWine said Friday.
Unlike the earlier draft, the latest proposal would permit the FDA to order the complete removal of addictive nicotine from cigarettes.
Health groups like that but oppose a provision that stops the FDA from ordering changes that "directly or indirectly" cause all cigarettes to be eliminated from the marketplace.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called that a loophole that could tie the FDA up in litigation with companies.
Philip Morris USA, which supports regulation, wants more explicit language preventing the FDA from ordering changes to cigarettes that could make them unacceptable to smokers.
"We think FDA's mission should be to reduce harm caused by smoking but preserve cigarettes as legitimate products for adults to use," said Mark Berlind, an attorney for Philip Morris' parent company, Altria Group Inc.
One reason Philip Morris wants FDA regulation is to help the company market new, allegedly safer tobacco products. The other major companies oppose regulation, saying new restrictions on advertising would make it difficult to attract customers.
Health groups like a provision in the latest bill that would require the FDA to publicly list, by brand, levels of harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as cancer-causing nitrosomines.
The proposed legislation also says the FDA cannot regulate tobacco farming. Tobacco-state lawmakers are supporting the bill in exchange for assistance to cash-strapped leaf growers.