FDA Tobacco Regulation Hopes to Cut Teenage Smoking

David Kaufman, M.D. Health Pro
  • Late last month, the US House of Representatives voted to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products, including cigarettes and forms of smokeless tobacco. Whether cigars would fall under FDA regulation is unclear. The bill, known as the "The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act," (H.R. 1108), passed by a vote of 326-102. The US Senate will likely vote on the bill during the Fall, and President George W. Bush said he would probably veto the bill.

     

    The bill would not give the FDA the ability to regulate all contents of tobacco products. For example, the FDA could not ban all tobacco products, nor could it force the elimination of all nicotine. In addition, the FDA could ban added flavors, except menthol. In contrast, the FDA would be able to limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to levels unlikely to cause addiction and reduce or eliminate other harmful ingredients. The exception of menthol was especially controversial, because mentholated cigarettes account for more than a quarter of all cigarette sales and are popular among blacks. The bill that was passed by the House called for the formation of a scientific committee to study the health effects of menthol.

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    Other elements of the proposed law would limit advertising directed at young people, force tobacco companies to reveal the ingredients in their products, require more prominent labelling that clarifies the harmful effects of tobacco, and eliminate terms such as "light" and "low tar" that might suggest that some brands of cigarettes are safer than others.

     

    Many important health organizations, such as the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society, support the bill. The Congressional Budget Office believes that if passed, the legislation would result in 10% fewer underage smokers and 2% fewer adult smokers.

    Others oppose the FDA's ability to regulate tobacco products. Michael Leavitt, the Secretary of Health and Human Services wrote a letter to Representative Joe Barton of Texas, "unlike the medical products FDA regulates, tobacco products cannot be made safe, and there is no medically established public-health benefit associated with tobacco. Adding tobacco to FDA's regulatory responsibilities could also leave the public with the misperception that tobacco products are safe, or at least safer, with the FDA regulating them." The FDA Commissioner opposes the bill because he says the FDA does not have the resources to accept the additional responsibility of regulating tobacco. Others oppose the legislation because it provides for too much government intrusion. Representative John Boehner said, "How much is enough? How much government do we need? There's not a smoker in America that doesn't understand that smoking isn't good for you.

     

    What do you think? Do you favor or disapprove of government regulation of tobacco? Would FDA regulation make cigarettes safer? Or would FDA regulation give a false impression of safety?

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Published On: August 26, 2008