Thursday, June 11, 2009

Senate Votes to Give FDA Power to Regulate Tobacco - Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Today the US Senate voted 79-17 to "give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the content, marketing and advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products" according to a story in the Washington Post. The bill would give regulators "new power to limit nicotine in cigarettes, drastically curtail ads and ban candied tobacco products aimed at young people." The vote now sends the bill back to the House, which had previously passed a similar bill. Speaker Pelosi apparently believes the House can simply pass the Senate version and send it on to President Obama, who has supported the idea despite the fact that he is a smoker who has struggled to quit (or perhaps because he is a smoker who has struggled to quit).

Many may not realize it, but tobacco products have been exempt from the normal regulation administered by the Food & Drug Administration. This bill would change all that.

Supporters of the bill say it is long overdue, and that it will save hundreds of thousands of lives annually and reduce the "$100 billion in annual health care costs linked to tobacco," which is considered one of the "leading preventable causes of death in the United States" according to those quoted in the Washington Post story.

While no opponents of the bill - which got bipartisan support - were quoted in the Post article, there are many who believe that regulating tobacco is an unwelcome intrusion into personal choices. They point to the inability of Prohibition to reduce alcohol consumption, and its eventual repeal.

So, is it a good idea for tobacco use to come under the regulatory arm of the FDA? Will it save lives? Reduce health care costs? Place a burden on the tobacco industry? Fail to result in changes in smoking habits?

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