US government backs anti-smoking measures

In collaboration with the Press Association

The US is on the brink of introducing new anti-smoking measures after the House of Representatives backed a bill passed on June 11th by the Senate, giving the government powers to regulate tobacco products.

Senators gave final approval for the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act by a margin of 79 to 17 on Thursday and the House has now voted 307 to 97 to endorse the bill.

Under the bill, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be given new powers to limit nicotine levels in cigarettes, restrict tobacco advertising, and prevent the use of terms such as 'light', 'mild' or 'low' to give the impression that a product poses less of a health risk.

Tobacco companies wishing to launch new products will have to obtain FDA approval, while all products will have to carry clear health warnings.

In addition, the bill will ban the use of flavouring in tobacco products, such as the fruit flavours used by some brands to target young people.

President Barack Obama has already signalled his intention to sign the bill into law.

He said that the bill would "make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps that will reduce tobacco's harmful effects".

He noted: "At any given moment, millions are struggling with their habit or worrying about loved ones who smoke.

"My administration is committed to protecting our children and reforming our health care system - and moving forward with common-sense tobacco control measures is an integral part of that process. I look forward to signing this bill into law."

An estimated 440,000 Americans die every year from tobacco-related illnesses and the bill has been welcomed by many.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who has been outspoken in his support of the bill, commented: "This is a bill that will protect children and will protect America.

"Every day that we don't act, 3,500 American kids - children - will light up for the first time. That is enough to fill 70 school buses." Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, added: "This legislation represents the strongest action Congress has ever taken to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States."

Elspeth Lee, Cancer Research UK's head of tobacco control, said: "This is an encouraging announcement. We hope that further measures will be introduced to reduce the harm from tobacco and the influence of the tobacco industry. In particular we hope that the US will become a party to the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to further protect its citizens."

The World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is a global public health treaty which came into force in 2005. Its aims are "to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke".

The treaty provides a framework of national, regional and international tobacco control measures, including the setting of broad limits on the production, sale, distribution, advertisement, taxation and government policies towards tobacco.