Hatch opposes proposal to put FDA over tobacco

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WASHINGTON - Sen. Orrin Hatch is trying seven different ways to curtail an effort to have the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products.

Hatch, R-Utah, objects to the move for two reasons. He says adding tobacco regulation to FDA's role would further hinder the financially strapped agency and, secondly, the agency charged with protecting Americans from unhealthy products should not be overseeing a product that is clearly bad for its users.

"FDA cannot perform its current responsibilities in a timely manner and to add such a tremendous responsibility such as regulating tobacco to this agency simply does not make sense," Hatch said as a Senate committee started debating the bill Wednesday.

The Utah senator has proposed seven amendments to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., including five changes saying the measure would not take effect unless additional funding is provided.

Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says cigarettes are the "most lethal of all consumer products," and must be overseen by the FDA to curb the health risk. Cigarettes kill more than 400,000 people every year nationwide.

"Used as intended by the companies that manufacture and market them, cigarettes will kill one out of every three smokers," Kennedy said Wednesday. "Yet, the federal agency most responsible for protecting the public health is currently powerless to deal with the enormous risks of tobacco use."

One of Hatch's amendments, to delay implementation until the cost and regulation could be studied, was shot down 12-9 in a committee vote. His other proposals will be taken up during a meeting today.

About 52 senators are co-sponsoring the bill. It is backed by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association among others.