Bill would give FDA authority to regulate cigarettes
Tobacco farmers say they would support legislation expected to be filed Friday that would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products if the federal government agrees to buy out the tobacco quota price-support system.
Sen. Edward Kennedy and others are expected to sponsor the bill, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. Details about the legislation weren't available Thursday.
Early last year a tobacco commission appointed by President Clinton issued a report endorsing FDA regulation of tobacco and a $15 billion federal buyout of the tobacco quota price-support system paid for with cigarette taxes.
D. Keith Parrish, a farmer from Coats, N.C, and the executive director of the National Tobacco Growers Association, said that most farmers he knows are in desperate financial shape and willing to make a deal.
"It's going to be kind of a trade-off. There can't be a quota buyout without FDA regulation, and there can't be FDA regulation without a quota buyout," Parrish said.
The amount of time available to get the bill pushed through Congress is limited.
President George Bush called for a major restructuring of the federal government last week to combat the war on terrorism, and the task of organizing a new Homeland Security Department is expected to be huge.
Details of the 2003 federal budget still have to be worked out, and many politicians will be campaigning this fall.
There are other obstacles to a political deal, too.
Among them are the disagreement between the major tobacco companies -- Philip Morris Cos. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. -- about whether FDA regulation is acceptable.
Some farmers say the Kennedy legislation could end the stalemate between the variety of groups.
"Tobacco farmers find themselves caught in a dilemma between tobacco companies and the public-health advocates," Johnny Shelley, the president of the South Carolina Tobacco Growers Association, said. "These FDA regulations coupled with fair compensation to quota owners and producers along with some type of program that will give long-term stability to tobacco-producing communities is the key to our survival."