The White House strongly opposes legislation that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products, wrote Michael Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, in a letter addressed to Joe L. Barton.
Barton, a Republican member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, approved the bill in April.
The bill is supported by both US Chambers; however, the letter is a strong indication that if the legislation passes both House and Senate, the Bush administration is most likely to veto it.
He went on to say that giving the FDA - a public health agency - jurisdiction over tobacco products would send the wrong message to the public that tobacco products are safe, or safer, with the FDA regulating them.
In the letter, he says his department supports efforts to encourage adults to quit smoking and to keep children from picking up the habit, and he said his department would spend $680 million in 2008 toward those ends.
But, the administration has serious apprehension that the bill could overextend the agency by adding significantly more responsibility that is inconsistent with the FDAs mission of safeguarding the safety of food, drugs and medical devices.
Smoking is one of the biggest causes of preventable deaths in the US, claiming the lives of more than 400,000 people each year. About 90 percent of cigarette smokers become addicted before the age of 19 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest cigarette company supports the legislation, while most cigarette makers oppose it.
Another key issue addressed in the letter is how the bill will treat menthol cigarettes.
If approved, menthol cigarettes would be exempt, but fruit, candy and spice-flavored cigarettes would be banned. Menthol sales account for about 28 percent of the $70 billion cigarette industry in America.
A recent survey conducted by the American Legacy Foundation found 81 percent of African-American teen smokers prefer menthol cigarettes compared to 45 percent of Hispanics and 32 percent of white teens.
A new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health in the US found tobacco companies deliberately manipulated menthol levels in cigarettes depending on whom they marketed them to.
Although menthol is exempt from the ban on flavorings, the FDA would have the power to ban or limit menthol if it proved harmful, said supporters of the bill. Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus have said they will move for a floor amendment of the bill to impose additional restrictions on menthol cigarettes or request a study.