For as long as Virginia has been a state…err…commonwealth, tobacco’s been an integral part of the economy. Although in recent years, its significance in Virginia has shrunk to become more symbolic than anything – Pocahontas’ husband ensured Virginia’s long-term importance in America when he cultivated tobacco as the colony’s (and really America’s) first cash-crop.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today that the Senate voted 79-17 yesterday to give the FDA authority to “regulate the content and advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products.”

Obviously, big tobacco lobbyists (anybody seen “Thank You for Smoking”?) are going to be hard at work on Capitol Hill over the next few days to try to keep the House from rubber-stamping the Senate’s initiative.

But odds aren’t looking good for Virginia’s tobacco companies. Said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “from what I have seen so far, I believe it will be possible for us to accept [the Senate] bill and send it right on to the president.”

The legislation gives FDA the power to impose more stringent marketing and production regulations on tobacco companies. Here’s a couple of examples (courtesy of the Times-Dispatch):

– Ban on terms such as “light” or “mild” to describe cigarettes.

– Limiting tobacco displays at retail stores to black-and-white text.

– Evaluate tobacco products and ban “dangerous” ingredients (nicotine can’t be banned).

-Tobacco companies would have to get FDA approval for new products.

-Flavored cigarettes (which might be attractive to children) would be banned, but menthol cigarettes would not.

Whether or not government should get involved in the private sector to this degree is another issue. But certainly, if the bill passes through the House, it would deal a heavy blow to Virginia’s tobacco companies.