Obama signs landmark law to regulate tobacco

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, citing his own struggle to give up smoking, signed a law on Monday giving the U.S. government broad regulatory power for the first time over cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Obama said the law would curb the ability of tobacco companies to market their products to the young.

“Almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday,” Obama said at a White House ceremony before signing the bill.

“I know -- I was one of these teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time.”

Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said Obama’s smoking habit was “something that he continues to struggle with.” He declined to answer directly whether the president still smoked.

The law followed a campaign by tobacco industry foes in Congress for more than a decade to put cigarettes under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It allows the FDA to put strict limits on the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products but stops short of allowing it to ban cigarettes or their addictive ingredient nicotine.

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Nearly 20 percent of Americans smoke, and tobacco use kills about 440,000 people a year in the United States due to cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other ailments.

Obama cited those statistics when declaring the completion of the law a victory.

“We’ve known about this for decades, but despite the best efforts and good progress made by so many leaders and advocates with us today, the tobacco industry and its special interest lobbying have generally won the day,” he said.

“Their campaign has finally failed,” he continued. “(The law) will force these companies to more clearly and publicly acknowledge the harmful and deadly effects of the products they sell.”


Health groups welcomed the new law, although some experts have said it did not go far enough to help prevent smoking.

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“This lifesaving new law has the potential to break the deadly cycle of addiction and put an end to Big Tobacco’s targeting of our nation’s children,” said John Seffrin, head of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Altria Group Inc, the parent company of the largest U.S. cigarette maker, Philip Morris, also said it welcomed the new rules.

“We have consistently advocated for federal regulation that recognizes the serious harm caused by tobacco products, that helps ensure tobacco companies do not market tobacco products to children and that also acknowledges that tobacco products are and should remain legal products for adults,” said Michael Szymanczyk, the group’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Reynolds American Inc’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit, which like other smaller tobacco companies opposed the new oversight, said it respected the regulations and would seek to participate in the FDA’s rule-making process.

“It has become law, and we will of course comply with the law,” company spokeswoman Maura Payne told Reuters.

Representatives for other tobacco makers, including Vector Group Ltd’s Liggett Group Inc and Lorillard Inc’s Lorillard Tobacco Company either could not be reached or had no immediate comment.

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by David Storey