In a very insightful commentary entitled "What's Fraud for Big Tobacco is Regulation for Big Government," Jacob Sullum over at Reason Magazine adds his own take on the new Tobacco Control article demonstrating that machine-measured cigarette emissions have little relation to actual human exposure and are therefore valueless consumer information. Like me, he sees the uncertainty of these numbers in predicting actual human health risks, and therefore, the senselessness of the Harvard nicotine yield report and the publicity that followed it, which bemoaned small increases in machine-measured nicotine yields over time. He also notes that the proposed FDA tobacco legislation would essentially charge the government with disseminating, in Big Tobacco's stead, potentially misleading information about cigarette emissions that could well deceive consumers. Finally, he agrees that the proposed legislation would serve as a death knell for potentially safer cigarettes by setting up an impossible regulatory hurdle for the approval of new, possibly reduced risk tobacco products.
What's most interesting is that Sullum actually came to this conclusion in a column back in September 2003 (which I wasn't aware of), in which he argued that the proposed FDA regulation could actually kill people, rather than save lives, by making it impossible to market what may be far less hazardous tobacco products: "Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) promises that his bill giving the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products will "save lives." But it could kill people instead. That's because the bill, which the Senate Health Committee is expected to consider soon, authorizes the FDA to block the introduction of safer tobacco products. In deciding whether to allow a new product on the market, the agency is supposed to weigh "the risks and benefits to the population as a whole." And what the FDA thinks is good for "the population as a whole" is not necessarily what's good for individual consumers."
In that piece, Sullum also points out (as I have recently) that by giving FDA the authority to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes, the legislation could also harm health: reduced nicotine would lead to increased compensatory smoking and higher tar delivery, increasing the carcinogenic effects and chronic lung impairment caused by cigarettes.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and a long list of major anti-smoking organizations supporting the legislation just don't seem to get it. Let's hope, however, that our policy makers do. Well, we have one thing working in our favor. Many of those same anti-smoking groups have made such absurd statements in the past months, that maybe, just maybe, their credibility will not quite be so high this time around. Maybe we're asking just enough questions, and demanding just enough logic and reasoning, that these groups' deceptive propaganda will not carry the day.