Tobacco companies have introduced almost no new cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products in the U.S. in more than 18 months because the federal government has prevented them from doing so, an Associated Press review has found.

It's an unprecedented pause for an industry that historically has introduced dozens of new products annually.

Officials at the FDA say that the reviews of applications for new products have taken so long because of "significant deficiencies" and because the agency is taking extra care in reviewing products that pose public-health risks. Industry executives say that cigarettes haven't changed in any meaningful way and that the delays don't make sense.

About 400 products submitted for review since March 2011 are being kept off the market. The reviews, which the industry expected to take 90 days, have dragged on for years in some cases. About 90 percent of applications have lingered for more than a year.

They'll be headed home for Christmas

NEW YORK - This Christmas travel season could be the busiest in six years, with AAA predicting that 93.3 million Americans will hit the road. That's 1.6 percent more than last year and just 400,000 people shy of the 2006 record.

This year, highways will be more crowded than ever, largely because finding a seat on a plane at a desirable price has gotten more difficult. AAA says 84.4 million people will drive at least 50 miles between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1 - a new record. That's 90.5 percent of holiday travelers, up from 89.3 percent six years ago.

Put another way: one in four Americans will be driving long distances for Christmas and New Year's. So expect plenty of traffic jams, crowded highway rest stops and overflowing toll plazas.

Bar code inventor dies

RALEIGH, N.C. - Norman Joseph Woodland, the co-inventor of the bar code that labels nearly every product in stores and has boosted productivity in nearly every sector of commerce worldwide, has died. He was 91.

Woodland and Bernard Silver were students at what is now Drexel University when Silver overheard a grocery-store executive asking an engineering school dean to channel students into research on how product information could be captured at checkout.

Woodland dropped out of graduate school and went to Miami to work on the bar code idea. The only code Woodland knew was the Morse Code that he'd learned in the Boy Scouts. One day, he drew Morse dots and dashes as he sat on the beach and absentmindedly left his fingers in the sand where they traced a series of parallel lines. The bar code was born.

Briefly ...

LOS ANGELES - A California appellate court has upheld a Santa Barbara judge's order saying that the Boy Scouts of America must surrender decades of confidential files detailing alleged child sex abuse. A Scouts spokesman said the organization would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

NEW YORK - Stocks sank most of the day Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average finished down 74.73 points, to 13,170.72. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 9.03 points, to 1,419.45. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 21.65 points to 2,992.16.

- Daily News wire services