WASHINGTON - The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed legislation that for the first time would subject the tobacco industry to regulation by federal health authorities charged with promoting public well-being.
Backers of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act call it "landmark" legislation.
While the bill appears to have enough support to pass this year, it's unclear whether the Senate will have time to act.
The Bush Administration issued a veto threat yesterday.
The 326-102 House vote signaled solid bipartisan support for the measure, with 96 Republicans breaking with President Bush's position to vote in favor of the bill.
The bill would further tighten restrictions on tobacco advertising and impose new federal penalties for selling to minors.
But its most far-reaching provisions would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco, from cigarettes to new kinds of smokeless products.
While the agency could not outlaw tobacco or nicotine, it could demand the reduction or elimination of cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke.
The bill would prohibit candy flavored cigars and cigarettes, and would give the FDA authority to ban menthol - the most commonly added flavoring.
Opponents of the bill say having a public health agency regulate tobacco would send the wrong message. Besides, they argue that the agency is overwhelmed dealing with food and drug safety problems, and doesn't need complicated new responsibilities.
Despite decades of health warnings and smoking bans in most indoor spaces, about one in five adults smokes.
Smoking related-illnesses, including cancer and diseases of the heart and lungs, claim an estimated 440,000 lives a year, more than 10 times the number who die in traffic accidents.
The bill represents a compromise between major tobacco control groups and Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company.
The maker of Marlboro cigarettes broke with most of its peers in the industry to support the legislation. Other big companies, including R.J. Reynolds - the maker of Camel cigarettes - remain fiercely opposed.