This vote was on an amendment by Richard Burr, R-N.C., that would have replaced the text of a bill that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products with provisions that would allow a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services to better educate consumers about tobacco products instead. Burr’s amendment would have funded programs to help people stop smoking and encourage smokers to use smokeless tobacco products. It also would have restricted print advertising for tobacco manufacturers. New user fees on the tobacco industry would pay for these programs.
The underlying bill, which Burr’s amendment sought to replace, would allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the sale, promotion and manufacturing of tobacco products. The bill would require new, more graphic labels warning consumers about the health impacts of tobacco products. It also would create new standards for tobacco products traditionally marketed as having a lower health risk (such as “light” cigarettes). Additionally, the bill would enable the FDA to regulate the amount of nicotine contained in tobacco products, but would stop short of allowing the FDA to ban or eliminate nicotine completely. In order to help pay for all these measures, the bill would create new fees on tobacco products.
Burr said the FDA was never envisioned to regulate tobacco, and that it would place a large financial and administrative burden on an agency that is already overworked. Burr also contended that tobacco is already highly regulated, although imperfectly.
“One, no Member can come to the floor and claim this is not a regulated product. It is the most regulated product sold in America today. I think there is consensus, and I agree, that we can do better than this maze of regulatory oversight in jurisdiction that is currently structured within the Federal Government, because it has been cobbled together as the Federal Government has grown,” Burr said. “We are trying to take a round peg and put it in a square hole. We are trying to find an agency that we think has punitive steps that they can take, but we are actually going much farther than that. We are going to ask the FDA to surge, with their resources, their personnel, expertise, away from things such as lifesaving drugs, effective medical devices, and a responsibility to food safety at a time Americans have been killed because this agency couldn't effectively do their job. We are going to ask them to surge to handle a new product they have never, ever regulated.”
Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Burr’s amendment would create a new “untested” agency to oversee tobacco products, which could be disastrous at worst and ineffective at best.
“The FDA is the right agency because it is the only agency that has the regulatory experience and scientific experience and the combination of that with a public health mission,” Dodd said. He also noted that Burr’s amendment would only allocate 25 percent as much resources as the underlying bill.
“The Burr substitute fails to give the authority to remove harmful ingredients in cigarettes, which the [underlying] bill would do. It doesn't go far enough in protecting children and has weaker and less effective health warnings as well,” Burr said. “I say respectfully to my friend, setting up and creating a whole new agency, providing a fraction of the funding necessary to get it done, and providing inadequate resources in order to support these efforts is not the step we ought to be taking.”
By a vote of 36-60, the amendment was rejected. Of Republicans present, 35 voted for the amendment and five voted against it. All but one Democrat present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the bill went forward without language that would have replaced the tobacco regulation bill with language creating a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services to educate smokers about tobacco risks.