updated 2/15/2007 3:06:22 PM ET 2007-02-15T20:06:22

A bipartisan group of lawmakers Thursday renewed an effort to empower the government to regulate cigarettes as a drug, winning praise from anti-smoking advocates.

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In a move that could reshape the tobacco industry, the lawmakers said they were introducing a bill to put cigarettes and other tobacco products under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration.

The sponsors said the legislation would allow the FDA to prevent tobacco advertising targeting children; prevent sale of tobacco products to minors; reduce tobacco product toxicity; and prevent misleading claims about the dangers of smoking.

The Senate passed legislation a few years ago to give the FDA tobacco authority, but a companion House measure died.

This time, with Democrats in control on Capitol Hill, the bill could become law, said anti-smoking advocates.

“Congress has the opportunity to take a monumental step and grant the (FDA) the meaningful and long-overdue authority to regulate tobacco, which kills 440,000 people and costs our nation $96.7 billion in health care bills every year,” said John Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society.

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy and Texas Republican John Cornyn. In the House, California Democrat Henry Waxman and Virginia Republican Tom Davis are co-sponsoring the bill.

American Heart Association Chief Executive Cass Wheeler said, “Tobacco is one of the least-regulated consumer products ... Giving FDA the authority to regulate tobacco will save countless lives and hold a renegade industry accountable.”

Tobacco company Altria Group, which owns Philip Morris USA and makes Marlboro cigarettes, earlier this month expressed support for giving the FDA authority over tobacco.

Other companies that stand to be affected include Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Loews Corp.’s Lorillard Tobacco Co. unit.

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