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Stogie News: House Votes to Regulate Tobacco Under the FDA

31 Jul 2008

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 326-102 to place tobacco under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration. The move would give FDA bureaucrats the ability to regulate tobacco as well as tobacco advertisements, a power that both Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach oppose. In a statement (pdf) released today, the White House threatened to veto the bill if the Senate passes a version pending there and sends it to President Bush’s desk:

“The bill would mandate significant added responsibilities for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that conflict with FDA’s mission of ensuring the safety and effectiveness of drugs, biologics, and medical devices…

Requiring FDA to oversee the regulation of tobacco products would not only distract the agency from its oversight of food, pharmaceuticals, and medical products but could be perceived by the public as an endorsement that these products are safe, resulting in more people smoking.”

Speaking in favor of the bill, Representative Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-MD) made clear that the goal of the bill wasn’t to make cigarettes safer, but to regulate tobacco to reduce its use: “[Smoking] has a huge cost to our society. We have an opportunity to put an end to that…”

The bill would be a significant step towards the FDA declaring all tobacco products unsafe and thus prohibited. As we’ve written before, in an interesting twist, the law forbids the FDA from certifying that some forms of tobacco are safer than others, despite a mountain of evidence, meaning that the only “regulation” the FDA would have at its disposal would be limits on advertising or bans on certain types of tobacco products.

While the bill’s primary target seems to be cigarettes, it could have dire effects on cigar smokers. Besides being another step down the road to complete tobacco prohibition, FDA regulation may mean substantially limited advertising of cigars in magazines and also potentially on websites such as this one. If FDA mandates mean that cigar makers have to worry about nicotine (or other chemical) levels in cigars, it would stifle the creativity that has marked the cigar industry in recent years.

The bill also includes a prohibition on flavored cigarettes (although, oddly, it contains an exception for Menthol). While it is not clear that the flavored smoke ban would include cigars, if it does flavored cigars like Acid and Havana Honeys could be made illegal. Further, demands for “safer” tobacco products could mean a de facto prohibition for handmade cigars which, unlike cigarettes, cannot change their chemical makeup because they are entirely natural products.

-Patrick S

photo credit: FDA

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