Former FDA Chief On Tobacco Reform

David Kessler was head of the food and drug administration from 1990-1997. CBS News anchor Katie Couric sat down with Dr. Kessler to discuss the anti-smoking bill.

Q: Dr. Kessler, how historic do you think this legislation is?

A: It is very historic, Katie. It's a landmark piece of legislation. For the first time, we have the opportunity to regulate this deadly, addictive product.

Q: The nation's biggest cigarette maker, Phillip Morris, supports this bill. That seems a bit counter-intuitive. What does Phillip Morris have to gain by this?

A: I was a little nervous. Here we worked for 15 years for this legislation - they fought us all along the way. They fought us very hard. And then they switched. Then they backed the legislation. I think they understood that the 50 years that they deceived the American public, they deny the addictiveness of the product - that just was not going to work.

Q: Are you disappointed this legislation does not allow the F.D.A. to remove nicotine in cigarettes or deal with mentholated cigarettes, which are so popular?

A: It gives the agency a broad range of authority over the product it sells, over the advertising and promotion. No piece of legislation is perfect. But this is as close as I could have ever imagined or hoped for.

Q: The F.D.A., though, as you know, Dr. Kessler, has had some recent blunders - for example, the drug Vioxx. It was approved and removed for safety reasons. I guess the question is: Is the F.D.A. up to the task of this new regulation?

A: You're right, the last number of years have been hard on the F.D.A., but I think this is a shot in the arm. I think this will help the agency, you know, be the most important consumer protection agency that it's been for the last 100 years. This will save lives, Katie.

To watch an extended version of the interview, click below: