FDA Commish’s act on the Tobacco Control Act

American Council on Science and Health

In an op-ed for Reuters, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, boasts about the success of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The news would be quite welcome — if only it were true.

The bill, signed into law by President Obama three years ago, was supposed to reduce the devastating toll of cigarette smoking. As Dr. Hamburg puts it: “The FDA pulled candy and certain other flavored cigarettes off the market; issued new regulations to halt sales of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco to young people; banned brand-name sponsorship of sporting events and concerts; and implemented requirements for new warning labels for smokeless tobacco products.”

To which ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross responds: “Really? Almost everything Dr. Hamburg says is at best misleading. Pulling candy cigarettes off the market and forcing cigarette  makers to divulge their ‘ingredients’ will save exactly zero smokers. Her praise for the enforcement actions in the law would be appropriate — except that those rules were enacted first by the Master Settlement Agreement in 1999.” He continues, “Everyone agrees that preventing kids from smoking and penalizing retailers when they ignore the law is a good idea, but that’s nothing the new law can claim credit for. Very unfortunately, her entire essay is an exercise in delusion and misinformation. The law actually hurts public health by creating huge obstacles for reduced harm products.”

Dr. Hamburg also lauds the FDA’s recent attempt to impose large graphic health warning labels on cigarette packages and ads. Yet most studies show that such graphic labels are an empty gesture. This requirement has been suspended, at least, after a Federal court found their proposed warnings to be an unconstitutional overreach. And as Dr. Ross points out, some of the prospective measures the FDA aims to implement will actually be counterproductive. For example, Dr. Hamburg claims that FDA researchers are aiming to reduce the addictiveness of tobacco products. However, reducing the level of nicotine will actually prove detrimental. A decrease in nicotine levels will most likely cause smokers to smoke more cigarettes, thus inhaling more carcinogenic smoke, in search of their nicotine fix.

Thus, while Hamburg believes the FDA is “protecting public health from tobacco use,” the agency has been treading water for a while now, and may soon have made things worse.


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