The House today approved a bill that would for the first time give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D–Calif.), passed by a 298-112 vote, culminating a nearly decade-long battle by anti-smoking advocates to grant the FDA regulatory power over the industry. The bill, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, would empower the agency to approve or nix new products and bars companies from adding fruit and other flavors to cigarettes that critics say are aimed at attracting—and hooking—young smokers.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D–Mass.) said he’ll introduce a companion measure in the Senate when Congress returns from a two-week recess on April 18. Kennedy and Waxman have been pushing Congress to grant FDA authority over tobacco since the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the agency lacked such power without congressional action. Their effort began after former FDA Commissioner David Kessler (who led the agency from 1990-1997) forced Big Tobacco to admit its products were addictive and then tried unsuccessfully through proposed regulations to grant the agency the very power that the Waxman measure would now give it. (Kessler has not responded to requests for comment on today’s vote, but we'll update you if we hear back.)

The Senate passed a similar bill five years ago, but at least one senator from a tobacco-producing state, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, is threatening to filibuster this legislation, the Wall Street Journal reports. (The House passed a package to give the FDA power over tobacco last year, but the Senate didn’t take it up for a vote.) President Obama has said he supports the measure.

Image by SuperFantastic via Flickr