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Supreme Court Rules FDA Cannot Regulate Tobacco

Aired March 21, 2000 - 1:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: First, the FDA: In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said the agency does not have the power to regulate tobacco. What does that mean?

CNN's Charles Bierbauer here now with those high court details -- Charles.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the Food and Drug Administration had reversed itself in 1996. After decades of saying it didn't believe it could control tobacco, it decided it would seek to regulate tobacco, and that's what the case before the Supreme Court was about. And the justices here, by a narrow 5-4 majority, ruled in favor of the tobacco companies, saying that nowhere had Congress given the FDA that kind of authority.

What the FDA was seeking to do above all was to keep tobacco away from children and adolescents. That's been much the target of all the efforts against the tobacco companies. It would have limited the places where cigarettes could be sold, particularly with regard to cigarette machines. It would have required greater stringency with regard to identification for young people buying cigarettes.

But the ruling here was that, in all of its history, no place did Congress assign that authority to the FDA. And so what this very much does is have the Supreme Court thrust the responsibility back across the street to Capitol Hill and say to Congress, if you really want this, do something about it. And, indeed, within minutes of the announcement coming here at the court, at least a group of Democrats who are opposed to tobacco were up on the -- in the gallery at the Senate and arguing what they would have to do next. Here's Senator Tom Harkin:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: It is particularly disappointing that the court's decision will halt FDA's ongoing ID check program. The FDA has successfully contracted with all 50 states to conduct compliance checks, providing valuable resources to local communities to combat the growing problem of teen smoking. With this decision, the Supreme Court has now made it much easier for kids to buy tobacco and tobacco products.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BIERBAUER: It's a dilemma, though, in an election year whether the Congress can enact any legislation that would further curtail tobacco. The odds are probably against it. This decision does not, though, Lou, affect any of the other court cases working their way through the legal system -- Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right.

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