FDA should have authority to regulate tobacco products
A Senate committee has begun consideration of a bill that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products.
HAWAII and its counties have done everything that can realistically be expected of them to combat smoking, but the federal government has neglected this major health problem. At last, Congress appears prepared to allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, although some compromises have been made.
A Senate bill with 52 sponsors was to go before that chamber's health committee today, and a top House Republican estimated to the New York Times that it would pass in the House by a 2-to-1 ratio. The activity comes nearly a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the FDA lacks authority over tobacco companies and less than two months after the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, called for such regulation.
Some proponents of the bill are understandably disturbed about the deletion of a provision that would ban the use of cloves from a list of artificial or natural flavors like strawberry, chocolate and cocoa to appeal to children. R.J. Reynolds tried the strategy several years ago to peddle cigarettes such as Kauai Kolada, with "Hawaiian Hints of Pineapple and Coconut."
The provision was dropped to appease Philip Morris, the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer, which bought a controlling stake in an Indonesia company that produces clove cigarettes. Philip Morris, which supports FDA regulation, recently introduced a clove-flavored brand of Marlboro in Indonesia but a spokeswoman said it had no plans to import clove cigarettes to the United States.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, chairman of the health committee and the bill's principle author, dropped the provision after the Indonesian government objected that it might violate international trade laws. While all cloves for cigarettes are imported from Indonesia, menthol, which also is aimed at making cigarettes cooler and smoother, is a domestic product that the original bill permitted as an ingredient.
The provision's deletion is an acceptable compromise if it improves the bill's chances for enactment. If Philip Morris or other companies proceed to import cloves from Indonesia or develop them domestically, further legislation will be warranted.
President Bush opposed similar legislation in 2004, and Andrew von Eschenbach, the FDA commissioner, is opposed to having such authority. "We approve products that enhance health, not destroy it," he has said. That was a narrow view of the agency's responsibility, which should include protecting consumers against health dangers.
In recent testimony, von Eschenbach said he would not want the FDA to have to decide whether a cigarette was safe. Instead, the agency's function should include providing assurance that cigarettes are as safe as they can be, given their inherent risk of causing lung cancer, emphysema and other ailments. The legislation would give the FDA $450 million a year from a tobacco tax to achieve that objective.