Late last week the Senate finally voted along with the House to give authority to the FDA to regulate tobacco – a move specifically required when the silly Supreme Court said that the FDA did not have such authority. That was in spite of the fact that cigarettes are nothing more than a device to deliver a drug – nicotine – into the body. Other than that, there is no purpose to them. But the Supremes have made major mistakes before (the Korematsu case where they decided it was ok with the Constitution that Japanese-Americans be sent to concentration camps; the Dred Scott decision which said the same about slavery) and they will in the future. In any case, the damage is now undone and the President will sign the bill into law.
It took 40 years after the Surgeon General warned of the uses of tobacco for the Congress to act. No grass grows under their feet.
What does it mean? it establishes the ability of the agency to regulate the advertising and marketing of the product. They won't get to call light cigarettes "light" anymore. They will charge manufacturers a tax that will be passed on the consumer to hire staff at the FDA to do so. Then there will be a challenge by industry on the free speech aspects of all of that. The Supremes will get another crack at getting it right.
But actually, theone thing the FDA won't have the power to do is to pull tobacco from the market entirely. That is ironic isn't it?
I mean, what if a drug were on the market that had the same set of adverse events as tobacco – or the same risk/benefit ratio? Man, the Congress would be hopping mad – the FDA Commissioner would be hauled in for major hearings and disgraced on the Hill. People would call for a new Commissioner. An FDA whistle-blower would come in with something to say about it all and link up with a particularly loud member of Congress. An aspiring FDA Commissioner would write an editorial in a major medical journal. Newspapers all over would create hysterical headlines calling for action. The nation would deplore the inability of the FDA to move to get the drug off the market.
The drug is called nicotine. The drug has no benefit whatsoever. It has only risk. Congress should do the math.