Big Tobacco’s hard times

BIG TOBACCO’S HARD TIMES…. At an event this afternoon in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama will sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, and in the process, give the FDA “unprecedented authority to regulate tobacco.”

It’s a strong piece of legislation, approved by very large majorities in both chambers, and by any reasonable measure, constitutes “landmark” legislation on the making and marketing of tobacco products. Words like “low tar” and “light” will be prohibited from cigarette packages, as will various flavorings. For the first time, tobacco companies will have to disclose the ingredients that go into their products. The president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids recently said, “This is a bill not for a one-year or two-year splash, but for a long-term impact.”

And while all of this is encouraging, Alex Koppelman noted a key political development that shouldn’t go overlooked: Big Tobacco’s political power has probably never been this weak.

According to the New York Times, this fight took more than a decade — similar legislation was blocked by filibuster in 1998. It ended with wide margins in both houses of Congress in favor of the bill: The Senate approved it by a vote of 79-17 on Thursday, and the House voted for it 307-97.

Granted, Philip Morris, the country’s biggest tobacco country, came around and supported the bill after having opposed it for years. But its closest competitors both fought the measure, as did legislators from the traditional tobacco states.

That the bill could pass over the objections of, among others, North Carolina’s senators, points to how the country’s political dynamic has changed.

Quite right. It wasn’t too long ago that everyone knew legislation like that was needed, and everyone also knew Big Tobacco’s lobbyists would ensure it would never become law. Part of this is the result of the regionalization of the Republican Party in the South, and part is the result of revelations about industry wrongdoing, which has contributed to a very different political climate for tobacco companies.

Whatever the cause, today’s bill signing is long overdue.