US Senate approves sweeping tobacco legislation
Jun 12, 2009 - 3:28:40 AM

The US Senate Thursday approved sweeping new controls on tobacco products, including a ban on the labelling of 'light' cigarettes and increasing the size of health warning labels.

The bill for the first time gives a federal regulator, the US Food and Drug Administration -, broad authority over tobacco companies. It was welcomed by health advocates and even some major tobacco companies.

The legislation, passed 79-17 by the Senate, would bar companies from labelling cigarettes as 'light' or 'ultra-light', though it does not specify how they should be labelled instead. Anti-smoking advocates argue cigarettes with less tar are no less harmful to one's health.

Fruit or sweet-flavoured cigarettes - often criticized for targeting children - will also be banned, while new warning labels on cigarette packets will take up about half of the space.

'This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use,' said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington-based lobby group.

'The time finally has come to end the special protection the tobacco industry has enjoyed for too long and at such great cost to the nation's health,' he said.

The US House of Representatives approved a similar bill in April, but the House must hold one more vote on the Senate's version before it can reach President Barack Obama's desk for signature.

Obama said the bill 'will make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps that will reduce tobacco's harmful effects and prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children'.

Altria Group, the parent company of cigarette producers Philip Morris, also welcomed the bill's passage.

'The legislation is an important step forward to achieve the goal we share with others to provide federal regulation of tobacco products,' Altria said in a statement.

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