Specifically, the measure for the first time will give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate what goes into tobacco products, demand changes or elimination of toxic substances and block the introduction of new products.
Will it matter as much as supporters say? Smokers lighting up outside Washington offices had mixed reactions.
Government researcher Reginald Little, 47, who said he swiped his first cigarette from his grandfather at age 15, thought regulation was needed "because you don't know exactly what's in it."
But Becky Cook, a 22-year-old program analyst, said that, while she supported limits on ads aimed at children, "I already know it's bad for me, so I don't think knowing how much is really in one cigarette is really going to make a difference."
And nonsmokers? Yan Meek, 42, a finance analyst from Jacksonville, Fla., who was visiting the nation's capital with her 8-year-old son, Jesse, doesn't smoke and suggested the legislation would lead to "too much government control over personal lives, personal choices."
Lionel Richardson, 26, an electrical engineer visiting from Huger, S.C., is a a nonsmoker, too, but called the legislation a good thing. "It's a drug," he said, and "the FDA plays a big part in what drugs are sold." As for restricting advertisements, he said, "They make it sexy so kids think it's the cool thing to do."
The thousand health and consumer groups that endorsed the bill say that, combined with other anti-smoking efforts, it can significantly reduce the 400,000 deaths and $100 billion in health care costs attributed every year to smoking in the U.S.
Under the legislation:
—Cigarette packages will have warning labels that cover 50 percent of the front and rear. The word "warning" must be included in capital letters.
—Any remaining tobacco-related sponsorships of sports and entertainment events will be banned, as will giveaways of non-tobacco items with the purchase of a tobacco product. A federal ban will be imposed on all outdoor tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.
—Point-of-sale advertising will be limited to adults-only facilities, and remaining vending machines will disappear except in places restricted to adults. Retailers who sell to minors will be subject to federal enforcement and penalties.
—Smokers, particularly the younger crowd, will find they can no longer buy cigarettes sweetened by candy flavors or any herb or spices such as strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon or vanilla. Cigarettes advertised as "light" or "mild," giving the impression that they aren't as harmful to health, will no longer be found on store shelves.