Death of the tobacco lobby

Congress passes a bill that will allow the FDA to start regulating tobacco products

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 12, 2009 10:01PM (EDT)

Big Tobacco's influence in Washington has been on the decline for some time now. But a bill that passed Congress on Friday marks a really decisive loss for the industry, a sign of how little power it has compared to its glory days.

The bill, which will be signed by President Obama, gives the Food and Drug Administration, for the first time, the power to regulate how tobacco products are made and how they're marketed. 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. It doesn't hurt that the industry's pockets have gotten smaller in recent years -- as a series of losses have hurt them financially, they've contributed less and less to politicians' campaign coffers. But another important factor is the degree to which the Republican Party has become restricted to the South, while Democrats have increasingly realized they can win without it -- an idea they resisted for years -- or can win in it using a different coalition than the one they were used to.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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