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EU, US Senators Separately Look to Regulate Tobacco Sales to Minors

BRUSSELS, Belgium and WASHINGTON - New efforts to regulate tobacco sales to minors are gaining ground in both Europe and the United States as the EU and a group of US Senators separately announce new agendas.

The European Union's head office today proposed measures to make it harder for children and teen-agers to buy cigarettes, The Associated Press reports.

The new measures, to be presented to health ministers on June 26, are intended to "counter the efforts of the tobacco industry," said EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne. The proposals include preventing the sale of small packs of cigarettes, which are cheaper than the standard pack of 20 or 25; requiring vendors to check the cigarette buyer's age; and restricting access to vending machines. All would have to be approved by EU governments.

Byrne has pledged to continue a drive to cut the number of smokers in the EU from the current ratio of around a third of adults to levels in the United States, where around one in five smoke.

Meantime, in the United States, a group of Senators on Friday introduced legislation designed to give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to strictly regulate tobacco, setting up a replay of a similar attempt that was narrowly defeated in 1998, Reuters reports.

The new bill would grant FDA the explicit authority to control tobacco products, including jurisdiction over all cigarette packaging and advertising. It would also give the agency authority over the contents of tobacco products, allowing it to remove or modify ingredients it deems harmful to public health.

Supporters said they crafted the bill to closely resemble a similar proposal that garnered the support of a majority of the US Senate in 1998. The measure was ultimately defeated on a procedural vote.

Friday's package, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), would give FDA the power to prevent tobacco sales to youth and would also allow the agency to place strong warning labels on cigarette packaging in an effort to dissuade consumers from starting to smoke.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) said that tobacco companies have failed to live up to their side of the 1998 tobacco settlement, in which major tobacco companies agreed to stop targeting advertising to minors. The deal also sent more than $206 billion to 46 states in exchange for dismissal of lawsuits designed to recover the health costs of smoking.

"Children are still twice as likely as adults to be exposed to cigarette advertising," said DeWine. He quoted figures showing that industry spending on advertising and promotion increased from $8 billion in 1999 to $9.5 billion in 2000.

Philip Morris USA, one of the companies that signed on to the 1998 settlement with the states, said it supports giving FDA the authority to regulate tobacco, though Friday's proposal "is not a bill we can endorse now," said Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for the cigarette maker. An attorney with Philip Morris Management Corp. said the company is concerned with how much power the proposal would grant FDA.
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