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Congress should put FDA in charge of regulating tobacco products

Published January 21, 2007


For years, the federal government has tried, ineffectively, to litigate away the effects of smoking on people and the public purse, pursuing expensive lawsuits against an industry that nevertheless continues to produce a needlessly dangerous product. Then, in 2004, it seemed that Congress might opt for a better strategy by giving the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products. To make the measure palatable, its sponsors attached it to a proposal that handed tobacco farmers a $10-billion buyout package. Even so, the proposal died.

Now the new Democratic majority has a chance to finally pass this needed reform. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., plans to reintroduce the 2004 legislation before the end of the month. This is a good idea that has languished for too long.

Proponents of the legislation point out that the FDA would be able to crack down on tobacco advertising, especially that which targets children; require that packs carry much larger warning labels with much more explicit messages; and provide authoritative information about the contents of cigarettes and their dangers. Even more significant, the FDA would have the power to require reasonable changes in the composition of the product so that it would be less dangerous to smokers and those around them.

On Thursday, yet another study was released concluding that, unregulated, tobacco companies are going precisely in the wrong direction. The Harvard School of Public Health found that the amount of nicotine delivered to smokers' lungs increased by an average of 11 percent between 1998 and 2005, reflecting an increase in cigarettes' addictive potency. As commonsense policies such as high cigarette excise taxes and smoking bans reduce the prevalence of smoking nationwide, the FDA should be allowed to do the same to tobacco's harmful effects.

[Last modified January 22, 2007, 11:03:39]

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