Senators McCain and Frist draft FDA tobacco bill
WASHINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) - Two U.S. Senate Republicans who sought a comprehensive tobacco control bill in 1998 unveiled a narrower legislative approach on Tuesday, but public health groups immediately denounced it as disappointing and inadequate.
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who spearheaded the ultimately futile drive for tobacco legislation two years ago, and his ally Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, announced a more modest initiative focused only on the Food and Drug Administration's power to regulate tobacco.
The Supreme Court ruled in March that the FDA did not have the ability to regulate tobacco products under current law. The Frist-McCain bill would change the law to give the FDA explicit authority over tobacco.
Tom Ryan, a spokesman for Philip Morris, said the leading U.S. tobacco company wanted to negotiate a reasonable regulatory framework and this bill ``appears to contain some good provisions.''
But he said the company was concerned that the bill could give the FDA ``unnecessarily broad authority over advertising, marketing and retailing.''
The American Cancer Society, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Heart Association said the bill was unacceptably weak and did not even go as far as the FDA section of the 1998 bill written by Frist.
``CONGRESSIONAL MIRAGE'' DENOUNCED
``It's a classic case of congressional mirage. Every single provision has a technicality or a loophole or a new restriction added to it that will make it impossible for the FDA to protect the public health,'' Matt Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said.
The public health groups said they would happily work with Frist to enact the FDA portion of the 1998 bill. Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced that legislation as a separate bill on Tuesday.
The Frist-McCain bill focuses only on the FDA and does not include the cigarette tax increases and advertising restrictions that sank the 1998 initiative.
It would require manufacturers to list the ingredients of cigarettes and allow the FDA to set product standards over time to reduce the risk created by the ingredients.
The FDA would have the authority to regulate the marketing and promotion of tobacco to children. But it could not ban tobacco or nicotine, leaving any such eventual move up to Congress.
McCain, while acknowledging that the bill did not go as far as the public health community would like, said he thought it was a politically feasible bill and he would rather do something than nothing. ``The status quo is not acceptable,'' he said. ``We want to give the FDA significant authority.''
``This bill will save thousands of lives,'' said Frist, a heart and lung surgeon before he came to the Senate.
Whether the bill will progress in the Senate is in doubt. Asked about its prospects, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a joke about chewing tobacco and then said, ``I don't know anything about what they've done.''