... but FDA needs power to regulate tobacco
The Institute of Medicine wants Congress to authorize the FDA to regulate tobacco.
HAWAII is among the leading states in setting policies to discourage smoking, but the federal government has been reluctant to play a role. A report calling for authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco should prompt Congress to act.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that FDA lacks authority over tobacco companies, which entice children with fruit- and candy-flavored cigarettes and trick smokers by labeling their products "light" or "low-tar" without showing scientific truth. The FDA's inability to control such dangerous products is outrageous.
A report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, supports a bill before Congress to correct that regulatory omission. If statutes did not specifically exempt tobacco, the FDA would have the power to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes.
The institute's report also urges state and local government to take several steps to discourage smoking. The Hawaii Legislature has done all that the institute recommends: ban smoking in virtually all public indoor settings, restrict retail selling points for tobacco products and schedule tax increases on cigarettes.
A law enacted last year raised the state's cigarette tax by 20 cents a year, reaching $2.60 a pack by 2011. The institute advised increasing the federal excise tax on cigarettes, now 39 cents a pack, to as much as $2 a pack.
The institute proposes granting the FDA broad authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution, marketing and use of tobacco products. It calls for requiring tobacco companies to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to a point where they are no longer addictive.
Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, head of the FDA, is opposed to the agency having such authority, saying, "We approve products that enhance health, not destroy it." However, the FDA touts itself as "the nation's premier consumer protection and health agency." Failure to protect consumers against the health dangers of tobacco would be a shirking of its responsibility.
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