The Senate struck a historic blow against smoking in America Thursday, voting overwhelmingly to give regulators new power to limit nicotine in the cigarettes that kill nearly a half-million people a year, to drastically curtail ads that glorify tobacco and to ban flavored products aimed at spreading the habit to young people.
President Obama, who has spoken of his own struggle to quit smoking, said he was eager to sign the legislation, and the House planned a vote for today. Cigarette foes said the measure would not only cut deaths but reduce the $100 billion in annual health care costs linked to tobacco.
Fierce opposition by the industry and tobacco-state lawmakers had prevented passage for years, along with veto threats by the George W. Bush White House. In the end, the nation's biggest tobacco company supported the measure, though rivals suggested that was because it could lock in Philip Morris' share of the market.
Cigarette smoking kills about 400,000 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 45 million U.S. adults are smokers, though the prevalence has fallen since the U.S. surgeon general's warning 45 years ago that tobacco causes lung cancer.
The legislation, one of the most dramatic anti-smoking initiatives since the surgeon general's report, would give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the content, marketing and advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The 79-17 Senate vote sent the measure back to the House, which in April passed a similar but not identical version. House acceptance of the Senate bill would send it directly to Obama, who said Thursday that final passage "will make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps."