Public Health

FDA-Approved Cancer Sticks

The difference between preventing smoking and protecting smokers


Last week the House Energy and Commerce Committee overwhelmingly approved legislation that would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. Since the FDA is usually portrayed as a benevolent (if occasionally sleepy) watchdog, you might assume the bill is all about consumer protection. But it's actually aimed at consumer prevention, which is not quite the same thing.

A consumer protection bill that reduced competition, raised prices, restricted choice, blocked information, and made products more hazardous could not really be counted as a success. Yet the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which has broad support in both houses of Congress, promises to do all these things in an effort to discourage consumption.

The act imposes new regulatory burdens and advertising restrictions that will help industry leader Philip Morris, which supports the bill, maintain its market-share advantage over smaller cigarette manufacturers, which oppose the bill. The compliance costs and reduced competition are likely to raise prices, which counts as an advantage if your goal is "smoking prevention" but a disadvantage if your goal is to buy a pack of cheap smokes.

Likewise, the bill restricts variety, which consumers like but public-health paternalists do not. Under the act, smokers will be allowed to choose any cigarette flavor they like, as long as it's menthol (which happens to be the one flavor Philip Morris uses). Although people above the age of 18 have been known to enjoy the occasional clove cigarette, Camel Crema, or Kool Caribbean Chill, these flavored varieties have been deemed too kid-friendly and therefore inconsistent with the goal of smoking prevention.

While added flavors (except for menthol) are unambiguously evil, toxins and carcinogens may have a positive role to play if they discourage people from smoking by raising the specter of cancer, heart disease, and emphysema. Hence the bill instructs the FDA to approve a "modified risk tobacco product" only if it would "benefit the health of the population as a whole taking into account both users of tobacco products and persons who do not currently use tobacco products."

To make that judgment, the FDA is supposed to consider "the increased or decreased likelihood that persons who do not use tobacco products will start using the tobacco product that is the subject of the application" as well as "the increased or decreased likelihood that existing users of tobacco products who would otherwise stop using such products will switch to the tobacco product that is the subject of the application." In other words, the FDA could decide to keep a demonstrably safer cigarette off the market because it might attract new smokers or dissuade current smokers from quitting.

Worse, an existing product can be deemed a "modified risk tobacco product" subject to FDA approval if its manufacturer indicates on the package, in advertising, or in any other forum that it's less hazardous than cigarettes. If an executive at a smokeless tobacco company mentioned in a TV interview or an op-ed piece that his products were much safer than cigarettes, which is indisputably true, those products could suddenly be considered illegal.

Here the concern is not fraud but accurate information that consumers might "misuse" (by, for example, switching from cigarettes to oral snuff instead of giving up tobacco altogether). As far as this bill's authors are concerned, you can't handle the truth.

The bill not only authorizes the prohibition of safer tobacco products and the censorship of potentially lifesaving information about relative risks; it gives the FDA permission to make cigarettes more dangerous by ordering reductions in nicotine content. Such a mandate, aimed at making cigarettes less attractive to new smokers, would force current smokers to absorb higher levels of toxins and carcinogens to obtain their usual doses of nicotine.

According to its supporters, this bill, backed by the biggest tobacco company, will enable the FDA to protect smokers from Big Tobacco. Who will protect smokers from the FDA?

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.


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  1. FDA? I’m surprised they haven’t handed over tobacco regulation to the DEA. In a few years, maybe.

  2. Does the proposed ban on “flavored” cigs apply to cigars too?

  3. Highly problematic… How could a medicine regulation agency in good conscience give its seal of approval to tobacco products ? You might as well have the FDA regulate Fruit Loops and Doritos.

  4. Looks like another black market is on it’s way.Regulating what one put in their body never works.Those who fail to learn from history…..

  5. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

  6. JLM,
    I think it just applies to cigarettes, but I know what you’re thinking, if it applied to cigars this would put Acid cigars out of business.

    I’m sure that cigars will be next on the hitlist.

    1. Mike,

      There’s no big cigar company to line the pockets of the FDA so it’s unlikely cigars will be affected.

  7. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

    It plays on the fear of “My opponent doesn’t care about your children’s health. He even voted against The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.” ads.

  8. It was bad enough to treat smoking as evil. Apparently, now smokers are.

  9. Looks like another black market is on it’s way.

    Indisputably. I’m sure the politicians know this, but this legislation is a two-fer: they please the anti-smoking fascists and Philip Morris at the same time. Plus, it says “Family”! There’s no down side here (for them).

  10. Are Indian “nations” exempt? Ironically, they may become America’s last outposts of freedom.
    If we can keep ’em off the firewater long enough.

  11. Ed,
    Aren’t they exempt on almost everything by default?

  12. The most enjoyable evenings I’ve had are sitting on my deck,smoking a Cohiba,drinking a Sam Adams stout.Sometimes the cigar was Cuban,smuggled in by a friend.I must be the most evil man on the planet.

  13. Aren’t they [Indians] exempt on almost everything by default?

    If they are, how do I join up?
    I’ll bet I can locate that 1/64 blood sample somewhere.
    Plus, I can hold my liquor. I’ll be Chief in no time.
    Tax-free everything! For everyone!

  14. Aren’t they exempt on almost everything by default?

    The local Narragansetts certainly thought so, until a few years ago the governor sent in the Rhode Island staties to bust up their tax-free tobacco party. And while it was a PR disaster for the state (“look at the poor defenseless non-violent indians being beaten by the racist cops!”), IIRC the tribe still lost in court.

    If I’m not mistaken, it was because they were selling their product to whitey.

  15. I suppose it depends on the state. Technically the states have zero power over the tribes (once federally recognized) but it never works out that way. Connecticut demanded a hell of a lot of tribute in order for the Mohegans and Pequots to open their money factories…I mean casinos. I don’t recall how exactly the state was standing in their way but they were.

    Now, the Navajo reservation that’s bigger than Connecticut and spans more than one state–they can probably get away with a lot more.

    I buy my smokes from the Senecas in New York, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job of keeping the states off their back.

  16. I’d just like to say to the members of Congress that voted in favor of this, and that will vote in favor of this in the future:

    fuck you, you fucking fucks.

  17. The most enjoyable evenings I’ve had are sitting on my deck, smoking a Cohiba, drinking a Sam Adams stout. Sometimes the cigar was Cuban, smuggled in by a friend. I must be the most evil man on the planet.

    Not unless you do it after a trip to the shooting range. Colorado’s Independence Institute has ATF parties fairly often.

    Jacob Sullum welcomes the FDA to the brave new world of tobacco regulation, and wonders what it’ll mean for smokers.

    This is just like the anti-gun folks wanting firearms to be regulated by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. “What? It shoots bullets? That can’t be safe!”

  18. I confidently predict that when cops start getting killed by cigarette smugglers (oh yes, it will happen), it will be blamed on the addictive qualities of nicotine.

  19. LarryA,I’m a duck hunter and live in the country.I shoot clays in my back yard.Closer to the beer fridge when your done, don’t you you know.

  20. Does this mean that I will no longer be able to buy snus? The science shows a slight elevation in heart disease but no cancer risk. It is a safer tobacco alternative.

    So, congress is killing people rather than let them get a buzz, par for the course.

  21. Here’s some drama, involving tobacco money, currently happening between the state government here in Ohio and the anti-smoking forces

  22. Maybe they should organize a Million Fag March as well?

  23. GO MO!!

  24. I’m sure that cigars will be next on the hitlist.

    I see that coming, too. Good thing I live less than two hours from Mexico; I predict a booming trade in tobacco just over the Rio Grande if this keeps up.

  25. Looks like another black market is on it’s way.

    Check the “findings” of the bill: (35) Tobacco products have been used to facilitate and finance criminal activities both domestically and internationally. Illicit trade of tobacco products has been linked to organized crime and terrorist groups.

    They bitch about the black market while taking steps to expand it!

  26. I’m sure that cigars will be next on the hitlist.

    Not on your life. What do you think they’re smoking in those smoke-filled back rooms?

  27. More money at the price of freedom? Again? Who lobbies for personal rights?

  28. This is absolutely new to me, as I have never even heard of this proposed ban. Interestingly, there has been a huge rise in hookah lounges the past few years and they specialize in flavored tobacco. I wonder how this will affect those establishments? The goths should be hurting as well, since cloves are HUGE among the gothic community.

  29. Not on your life. What do you think they’re smoking in those smoke-filled back rooms?

    What effect does the fact that congresscritters use something have on their propensity to ban it for the peons?

  30. cloves are HUGE among the gothic community

    They’re usually imported from Indonesia. I suppose a nice big fat tariff will fix that.

  31. I used to think I was part Cherokee, but now I know I’m not. Indians are supposed to like tobacco, but for me it’s only so-so.

  32. Our government is fundamentally broken and cannot be fixed by rational discourse. So in an effort to communicate we should get blind stinking drunk first, at least we would all be on the same level then.

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