The US House of Representatives has passed legislation that would give the federal government key controls over the tobacco industry for the first time. The Obama administration broke its no new tax pledge in the first 30 days after election with the 62 cent increase in federal excise tax on cigarettes. Now it will likely have the chance to break its promise for effective regulation by signing off on FDA regulation of tobacco. Yes, this is the same US Food and Drug Administration that cannot keep salmonella-tainted food off the market. Next will be a push for a nationwide federal smoking ban.
Following on the House passage, a confirmatory Senate vote and President Obama’s signature, may well follow before long. Look for increasingly higher-priced and increasingly inferior cigarettes in the year and years to come. Over the long term the FDA will by natural tendency tend to seek the complete removal of nicotine from cigarettes, and in an obliging political climate, it may manage to pull that off. The legislation will most likely delay execution of the fanatical impulse though the impulse will certainly be there.
Elimination of nicotine by the FDA will not be possible initially. If this law comes to pass in similar form to previously proposed legislation it will be designed to maintain aspects of the status quo for two decades. On the other hand, antitobacco mentality tends reflexively to proceed to the "next step," and when antitobacco agencies ask for more, legislators generally oblige. Recall, for instance, that when smoking bans in restaurants appeared, it was typically promised that bars would remain exempt. Then the bars went. There are a thousand other examples of such incrementalism.
Of course draconian regulation to the point of nicotine abolition, or eventual total prohibition of tobacco, which with time and fanatical lobbying may also ensue, would ultimately have disastrous effect on the careers of many prohibitionists. This reality could effectively suppress the abolitionist reflex indefinitely and result instead in a convoluted quasi-prohibition with smokers, for decades to come, being "treated" by Public Health as "addicts." Lower-risk cigarettes or more concocted tobacco replacement products may appear over time. Big Pharma will have much to say in all this. Such possibilities are considered in a FORCES Position Paper.
All of this is good news for black marketeers. Smokers will keep smoking. They will keep finding satisfactory products at fair prices. The FDA will try to stop them but it won’t. If reduced risk cigarettes are made palatable and available at reasonable prices, they will be popular, and beneficial; however, the bureaucracy may well create a botched and ridiculously expensive reduced-risk product, if ever it approves such products at all. Time will tell. Expect the worst. Handing regulation of tobacco over to the FDA is like giving Carry Nation dominion over the liquor industry. Miss Nation died in a lunatic asylum. That is where all of today’s Antis belong. If you want to smoke, smoke, and help us to defeat fanatical antitobacco once and for all.