Should FDA take on tobacco?

Senator Ted Kennedy, a longtime foe of the tobacco industry, has introduced legislation to have FDA regulate tobacco. Strange bedfellows have emerged with tobacco giant Philip Morris joining Kennedy and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for FDA regulation. Not everyone is impressed. I’m putting a link to an interview with libertarian author Patrick Basham who has just published Butt Out! How Philip Morris burned Ted Kennedy, the FDA, and the Anti-Tobacco Movement. The interview is under Interesting Articles (scroll down on the right) under, Butt Out!

The first time FDA tried to regulate drugs I was the “Tobacco Monitor” for the San Francisco District of FDA. With most of the regulation in court, the program concentrated on funding state programs to stop sales to minors. The whole thing never really got off the ground and caused a certain amount of resentment in the FDA workforce.

I’m not very sure FDA is the best organization to regulate tobacco. Someone once had the bright idea that FDA should regulate methadone clinics. I was involved in those inspections which were really an inappropriate use of Agency resources. The program was finally transferred to a mental health agency, SAMSHA, where it belonged. I’m not sure who should regulate tobacco, it certainly needs it, but I’m not sure that FDA is the right place. It really doesn’t fit in with FDA’s public health mission. There are No safe cigarettes.

That being said, the opposition to Kennedy’s bill is led by RJ Reynolds, the number two tobacco giant. They talk about “smokeless innovation” and “harm reduction.” I am not convinced at all. Anyway, the debate is starting up and it should be interesting. If it passes it will be quite a challenge for new FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. I don’t envy her.

UPDATE: It looks like FDA regulation of tobacco is drawing close. See Boston Globe Tobacco, under Interesting Articles for a pretty good update.

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