Editorial: Bill lets FDA regulate tobacco at expense of free choice

By Pitt News Staff

‘ ‘ ‘ Few people have any doubt that smoking is an unhealthy activity. Experts have linked it… ‘ ‘ ‘ Few people have any doubt that smoking is an unhealthy activity. Experts have linked it to numerous health risks, diseases and other sundry conditions. But in an effort to make the activity safer, the House Energy and Commerce Committee overwhelmingly voted to give the Food and Drug Administration the power to oversee and regulate the tobacco industry. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The bill gives the FDA the power to regulate ingredients, to require new labels on tobacco products and even to ban flavored cigarettes (with the exception of menthol), with the goal of the bill’ to ‘prevent the dangerous and all-too prevalent marketing and sales of tobacco to kids,’ according to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Perhaps the most incredible thing about this bill is that it’s only being passed today. Cigarettes have been a known health risk for decades, and yet their marketing, sale and consumption have gone more or less unregulated, with the exception of banning television ads and requiring a warning from the surgeon general on every package. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ But the bill goes further than that, requiring a new, larger label as well as a full list of ingredients on each container of tobacco products, and it would prohibit companies from using words like ‘low-tar’ and ‘light’ in their marketing. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ We have to wonder, though, how much this bill is actually aimed at making cigarettes safer and how much it is aimed at simply making them unattractive. Larger warning labels and ingredient lists are welcome additions, but they don’t actually do anything other than dissuade people from using the product. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Longtime smokers ‘mdash; and new ones ‘mdash; aren’t going to benefit from reading a new label if they still smoke afterward. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The bill would give the FDA some ability to affect the cigarettes themselves: FDA officials could require the removal of harmful chemicals from tobacco products, and companies would have to pass new products through an FDA approval process. But for the most part, it does nothing but make cigarettes look less appealing and more like a health risk. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The only reason this is fair at all is because smoking undeniably poses a health risk. But requiring larger labels and banning strawberry-flavored cigarettes won’t have an effect on people already addicted to smoking, nor will it dissuade people who know about the health risks and decide to smoke anyway. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ In some ways, this bill is indicative of the United States’ slow march toward government regulation of private industry and the gradual rise of the nanny state. Smoking is a health risk and, in many cases, it’s a public health risk But smoking is also a personal choice. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Regulating the tobacco industry ultimately has no goal other than to dissuade people from smoking and to make tobacco a socially unacceptable product. The only thing left for the government to do after this is to ban tobacco products outright, at which point citizens are basically being told that they can’t be trusted with their own well-being. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ In short, this bill appears to do some good ‘mdash; tobacco products are inarguably harmful, and regulating them for the good of the people who use them is a beneficial goal. But we have to wonder where this type of legislation will stop and allow people to make their own choices regarding their health.