Tobacco Regulation Smoke-Screen

Have you ever seen anyone sit down at the breakfast table and pour themselves a big ol’ bowl of cigarettes?  Of course not.  Why not?  Because cigarettes aren’t food, that’s why.

Have you ever seen someone at the drug store waiting for their prescription of Marlboros?  Of course not.  Why not?  Because cigarettes aren’t drugs.

So why, then, do Democrats (and some misguided Republicans) want to place tobacco under the regulatory control of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA)?  Well, that’s kinda like asking why lions chase wildebeests.  It’s just what they do; expand government.

The latest effort to “regulate” tobacco comes, not surprisingly, from the King of Northeastern Liberals, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).  But as Bill Lauderback of the American Conservative Union (ACU) points out, the tobacco industry is already regulated – by the Federal Trade Commission and the Agriculture Department, not to mention by the various states and local governments.

“The FDA, on the other hand, is an overburdened, hidebound, bureaucracy that already is overwhelmed by its mandate to protect the nation’s food supply and assure the timely introduction of safe and effective drugs,” Lauderback wrote.  “New drugs take far too long to clear the agency’s approval process, and the nation is facing round after round of food-borne disease epidemics such as the recent problem with spinach.”

Yes, between killer spinach, bird flu, mad cow and salmonella-laced peanut butter, one would think the FDA has a full plate already.

Nevertheless, Kennedy, along with his trusty anti-tobacco sidekick from the House, Rep. Henry Waxman, is pushing to place both cigarettes and chewing tobacco under the control of the FDA – including $300 million’s worth (to start) of annual “user fees” to be levied on tobacco companies, which will inevitably be passed on to consumers.  So yes, this would be a tax hike in addition to the creation of yet another big government regulatory nightmare.

Allied in the move to put Big Tobacco under the Big Thumb of Big Government is the biggest of Big Tobacco’s tobacco companies, Altria (like “Prince,” the cigarette company formerly known as Phillip Morris).  Why?  Because proposed advertising restrictions in the Kennedy-Waxman bill would solidify Altria’s leading market share against its competitors.  Go figure.

I guess I can understand why PhilMo would support federally imposed advertising restrictions on its competitors, but it’s hard to understand how a congressman who swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment, could support them. Thank goodness they only took their oaths on a Bible and not the Koran, right?  But I digress.

New FDA regulation of tobacco would mean a ban on cigarette machines, no more flavored cigarettes, additional disclosures of the contents of their products (no MSG!), bigger and more graphic health warnings on the label, and a prohibition on the use of the words “light,” "ultralight," and "low-tar."

The FDA would also have the power to require tobacco companies to remove what it deems “harmful” ingredients and reduce nicotine.  In addition, the FDA would be able to prohibit smokeless (chewing) tobacco companies from advertising that their products are a safer — not safe, safer — alternative to smoking, no matter how true that claim is or how many smokers’ lives might be saved by switching to non-combustible tobacco.

About the only power the FDA wouldn’t have over tobacco under Kennedy-Waxman is the power to ban it altogether.  But there’s always tomorrow.

This new power-grab by the purveyors of hyper-active Big Government should chill limited-government and constitutional conservatives to the bone. The last thing we need is an already muscular federal bureaucracy like the FDA being put on steroids, regulated or not.

The Winston Salem-Journal recently summed this all up nicely in an editorial:

“Regulating cigarette sales to adults has no place in a free society.  Nobody’s denying the health hazards of tobacco. Most of the smokers who can’t quit sure don’t deny the danger.  But if the industry is to eventually become extinct, the forces influencing that ought to involve the simple law of supply and demand.  Prohibition proved that limiting supply doesn’t work. . . . Public restrictions on smoking are already limiting demand.  But government intervention through FDA regulation would destroy the principle that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions in a world that is far from risk free.”

Ain’t it the truth?  What we really need is regulation of people going into a voting booth and electing government-growing lefties such as Ted Kennedy and Henry Waxman.  Don’t hold your breath waiting.