A key House of Representatives committee has overwhelmingly approved legislation that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products.
Generally FDA oversight is presumed to be beneficial to consumers, ensuring that particular products are safe. FDA oversight of tobacco products, however, is designed to prevent product information from reaching consumers, to set up a system of artificially high prices and to deliver the customers to the tender mercies of a state-sanctioned monopoly. Tobacco products have been in use since long before the FDA was invented.

The safety record of the manufacturers is impressive. Product quality control has been impeccable. The same could be said in general regarding alcoholic beverages, which are regulated in consultation with FDA, but under the specific control of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) (stored link). Booze correctly lies distinct from direct FDA oversight. Of course beer, wine, and liquor may well be considered both foods and a strong and genuinely addictive drug, in both respects unlike tobacco, but the risks of use are well known, and direct FDA regulation (which requires products be categorized as "safe") has always been considered inappropriate.

ATF has authority regarding illegal trafficking in tobacco products, which are otherwise and extensively regulated both by individual state tax agencies, and by a plethora of federal regulations and oversight (stored link). Alcohol and tobacco are regulated as they are because the mission of the FDA essentially precludes its administration of legal substances adults choose to use knowing the risks of overindulgence. Under jurisdiction of the FDA, as conventionally implemented, alcoholic beverages or tobacco could be banned or made subject to prescription. Regulation of these age-restricted products is not a bad fit for the FDA, it doesn’t fit, plain and simple.

High quality beers, wines, liquors, and tobacco products have been assured and have always been available under existing regulation. Smoking and drinking are choices free people make based on their own good judgement. A quart of whiskey will kill you if you drink it fast enough but few do that. Nobody has ever killed himself by smoking too much at a frat party because you can’t.

The harm alleged from smoking tobacco, so say the statisticians, occurs only after many decades of chronic use and only to a small fraction of those who have smoked. Smokers appraise risk and they are subject entirely to the same illnesses as are non-smokers. To date not even one death has been scientifically proven to have been caused by the use of any tobacco product.

So why the need to burden the incompetent FDA with yet more work? There is no clamor from the American public for FDA regulation but there is a clamor from a few, special interests that foresee big bucks flowing into their coffers should the FDA take charge of tobacco. The most obvious beneficiary is the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturer.

Philip Morris has been on board the FDA bandwagon ever since it realized it could use FDA regulation to drive its competitors out of business. The pharmaceutical industry, and the anti-smoking organizations in its pay, are urging FDA regulation so that the federal policy of reducing smoking can be tailored to expand the smoking cessation racket.

One huge group that will be adversely affected by FDA regulation of tobacco products is the mass of 50 million smokers whose opinions, needs, and concerns are always absent when tobacco policy is under the public spotlight. Jacob Sullum shines his spotlight on the FDA regulation proposal and reveals the ugliness these consumers will face if the FDA takes charge of tobacco.



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