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Senate passes curbs on tobacco

WASHINGTON -- The Senate approved a plan yesterday to put new restrictions on cigarette makers and pay tobacco farmers $12 billion to give up federal quotas propping up their prices.

An unlikely alliance of antismoking advocates and tobacco state senators teamed up to secure the 78-15 vote to combine a 10-year buyout for tobacco growers with new Food and Drug Administration powers. The measure was added as an amendment to a corporate tax bill and broke weeks of deadlock over how to proceed with negotiations on that bill.

Supporters had worked to get the buyout and new FDA authority to regulate cigarettes attached to the tax bill so that talks could begin with the House on a compromise. The FDA would regulate tobacco not as a drug but as an entirely separate product category.

A bill the House passed last month included a smaller $9.6 billion tobacco buyout over five years and no new FDA regulations on manufacturing and marketing cigarettes and other tobacco products. The Senate would make tobacco companies pay for the buyout through a user fee that could be passed on to smokers. The House would spread the cost of its version to all taxpayers.

As part of an appropriations bill this week, House members also voted to forbid the Agriculture Department from carrying out a buyout financed by general tax revenues. The buyout would pay roughly 400,000 tobacco quota owners -- most of them in the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia -- to give up federal allotments limiting how much they can sell each year. With no quotas to keep prices up, about half of the roughly 100,000 active tobacco growers may give up the crop altogether, said Keith Parrish, executive director of the National Tobacco Growers Association.

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