Thomas Proposes Tobacco Tax Bill Without FDA Regulation
As expected, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) on Monday presented to conference committee members a final version of a corporate tax bill that does not include a provision to allow FDA to regulate the manufacture, promotion and sale of cigarettes, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (Hardin, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/5). The Senate in July voted 78-15 to approve a version of the tax bill with an FDA tobacco regulation provision in exchange for a 10-year buyout program financed by the tobacco industry that would eliminate federal quotas on the amount of tobacco farmers can grow.
Under a version of the tax bill passed by the House, federal government would finance the buyout program. The House version also does not include the FDA tobacco regulation provision. Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) this week threatened to filibuster the final tax bill if the legislation does not include a provision on FDA regulation. A majority of the senators on the conference committee must approve the bill before the Senate votes on the legislation. All Democratic senators and at least four Republican senators on the conference committee voted in favor of the Senate version of the tax bill (California Healthline, 10/4). Thomas serves as chair of the 41-member conference committee (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/5). The final version of the tax bill proposed by Thomas would reduce the tobacco buyout program to $7 billion and require the tobacco industry, rather than the federal government, to cover the cost. According to the Times-Dispatch, "Thomas' compromise plan carries great weight" and could "bring a quick breakup of the twinned issues of regulation and relief, probably preceded by a fight." Thomas hopes to have a final vote on the tax bill before the current legislative session ends on Oct. 8 (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/5).
Roll Call on Tuesday examined the "uncomfortable alliance" between the anti-tobacco group Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, that has helped move the FDA tobacco regulation provision in the tax bill "closer than even before to the president's desk." According to Roll Call, Philip Morris began to support FDA tobacco regulation in 1998 as part of a public relations campaign to reduce the number of teenage smokers and "help polish the company's image" in the face of "billions of dollars in lawsuits."
Philip Morris controls about half of the cigarette market, and as a result, a ban on advertisements for tobacco products included in the FDA tobacco regulation provision "would help the company solidify its grip on the market," Roll Call reports. Meanwhile, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids "decided that getting legislation to regulate tobacco was worth the price of negotiating with the enemy," according to Roll Call (Mullins, Roll Call, 10/5).
The tax bill "deserves to die" in the Senate "on its manifold demerits," a New York Times editorial states. The legislation represents a "sorry vehicle" for a "$100-billion-plus porkfest" and has only a "singular virtue, the FDA controls over tobacco," the editorial continues. The editorial states, "If some sort of goody-laden bonanza must inevitably pass, this one patch of reform must be included" (New York Times, 10/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.