FDA wants to get schooled in cigarette making, asks tobacco cos for learning tours

By Michael Felberbaum, The Associated Press – 1 day ago

RICHMOND, Va. — The Food and Drug Administration wants to get schooled in cigarette making.

The federal agency’s 2-year-old Center for Tobacco Products is asking tobacco companies to invite it to tour farms and factories that grow or process tobacco.

It says the visits are meant to help the agency better understand how each step in the process — from field to package — could influence the final product.

The FDA wants to tour large and small cigarette factories, a smokeless tobacco plant, tobacco farms, a rolling-paper factory and a tobacco warehouse.

The agency won the authority to regulate tobacco in 2009. Although the agency has the authority to visit most tobacco facilities, the tours are not official inspections. It said in its request that better understanding the industry “may be helpful.”

“Some of the people they’ve hired certainly know a lot about tobacco, (but) the odds that many or any of them have actually been on the inside of a manufacturing facility is probably pretty low,” said Ira Loss, an analyst with Washington Analysis who has covered the agency for three decades.

The nation’s second-largest cigarette maker, Reynolds American Inc., intends to take the agency up on the request.

“We certainly think it’s important the FDA understand the practicalities of tobacco manufacturing,” Reynolds spokesman David Howard said.

Altria Group Inc., owner of the nation’s top cigarette company, Philip Morris USA, said it plans to respond but wouldn’t say whether that meant it would extend an invitation.

Tobacco companies, in essence, will foot the bill through user fees the FDA charges them.

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