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Congress Starts Hearings on FDA's Control of Tobacco
Date:10/3/2007

Some call it a boon for Americans' health, others disagree

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Wednesday's hearings on Capitol Hill on whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should regulate tobacco have relit a long-smoldering debate.

Those on both sides of the issue remain divided on whether the bill will impact tobacco use, blamed for killing some 436,000 Americans a year, or almost one in every five deaths.

Already, FDA Chairman Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach is on record as saying he does not want his agency to oversee tobacco.

"We could find ourselves in the conundrum of having made a decision about nicotine, only to have made the public health radically worse. And that is not the position FDA is in; we approve products that enhance health, not destroy it," von Eschenbach told the Associated Press in March.

"What I don't want to see happen is that we are in a position where we are determining that a cigarette is safe," he said.

Despite those views, 200 sponsors have lined up to support legislation pending in the House, including Rep. John Dingell, (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health, which is hosting this week's hearing.

The bill also has the support of 55 senators and more than 500 public advocacy groups, according to Mathew L. Myers, president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids.

"The hearings are the next step for a bill that is gaining momentum and bipartisan support," said Myers.

One of the bill's more surprising backers: Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco producer, which controls about half of the U.S. cigarette market, including Marlboro, the nation's bestselling brand.

The company has said it supports legislation as a way of meeting the goal of FDA regulation that was called for in a recent U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) report.

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