Anti tobacco Act
The new tobacco law gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco in the same way the government regulates breakfast cereals and pharmaceuticals.
"This legislation is a victory for bipartisanship, and it was passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress, " Obama said today. "It's a victory for health care reform, as it will reduce some of the billions we spend on tobacco-related health care costs in this country."
Watch ABC News Primetime: Questions for the President - Prescription for America on Wednesday, June 24 at 10 p ET.
Public health organizations and many lawmakers, several of whom joined Obama today for the signing, have been fighting for regulation for nearly a decade in hopes of helping an estimated 45 million adult smokers in the United States to kick their habit.
The law means the government will have the power to decide how cigarettes are advertised and monitor how they're promoted to young people. It means cigarette makers will be required to include new, larger warning graphics with more health information on their products and will be prohibited from using words like "light" and "low tar" in their marketing.
"Forty-five years after the first U.S. surgeon general's report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, the most deadly product sold in America will no longer be the least-regulated product sold in America, " said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a statement earlier this month when Congress passed the bill.
Within the year, a rule will also be reinstated that prohibits outdoor tobacco ads within 1, 000 feet of schools and playgrounds, and bans tobacco brands from sponsoring sports and entertainment events, according to the law.
At the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, CEO John R. Seffrin said the changes "will finally put an end to Big Tobacco's despicable marketing practices that are designed to addict children to its deadly products."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also pinned high hopes on the effort.
"This legislation provides a tremendous opportunity to finally hold tobacco companies accountable and restrict efforts to addict more children and adults, " American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a June 11 statement. "It has been a long and challenging process to move the bill through Congress but the determination of many concerned parents and supporters has never wavered."
Twenty years ago, the Senate passed a measure - by just one vote - that banned smoking on airplanes. Today even tobacco-producing states have smoking bans in bars and restaurants.
But giving the FDA power to regulate tobacco is a huge move that's been in the works for a long time. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled the FDA could not regulate tobacco according to current law, and many lawmakers and anti-smoking groups have been trying to change the law since.
To fund the regulatory effort, the FDA will collect user fees from the tobacco industry.
Not surprisingly, much of the tobacco industry opposed the bill, but there were some major exceptions to that rule. The giant Altria, parent company of Philip Morris, took an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach and supported the measure, although some complained the company contributed to a watering down of the bill.
Altria called the measure "not perfect" in a June 11 statement after the Senate voted on the measure.
"We have expressed First Amendment reservations about certain provisions, including those that could restrict a manufacturer's ability to communicate truthful information to adult consumers about tobacco products, " the statement said. "We also believe that the resolution of certain issues would best be handled by rulemaking processes that involve sound scientific data and public participation."
Still, the company added, "On balance, however, the legislation is an important step forward to achieve the goal we share with others to provide federal regulation of tobacco products."
The tobacco industry has already been readying itself for a tougher U.S. regulatory environment by expanding its overseas marketing and developing new smokeless products.