New push for FDA power over tobacco

You can't fault the new Congress for lack of zeal. Already, lawmakers are pushing for a big tobacco bill that would charge the FDA with regulating cigarettes. Sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy--after years of promoting the idea of being tougher on tobacco--the measures would also include higher cigarette taxes and ratification of an international anti tobacco treaty, the New York Times reports.

Part of the reason lawmakers are thundering out of the gate with this one is that President Bush contravened their anti-tobacco efforts for the last eight years. President-elect Obama, on the other hand, supported the bills when he was in the Senate (despite his occasional partaking of tobacco). His staff says he hasn't decided what action he might take on the measures in the White House, but Congress-watchers say his election is a game-changer for tobacco regulation. And his HHS pick, Sen. Tom Daschle, has experience fighting the cigarette industry.

One big question, however, is just how effective FDA might be at regulating tobacco. The agency itself hasn't exactly begged for the power to do so (under the Bush administration, at least.) And the bill calls for a new FDA office, with an entirely new staff--all paid for via industry fees. Critics of the FDA allege that the agency is too close to the businesses it currently regulates; why would that be any different with tobacco? And already, the cigarette industry is scheming about how to mitigate the damage of regulation. They're hoping to persuade the new administration to go for "harm reduction" as a goal, rather than a push for smokers to stop completely.

But anti-smoking advocates are behind the idea, so they must believe FDA regulation would cut back on tobacco use. If Congress has its way, we'll soon get a chance to find out. 

- see the story in the New York Times