In an interview with the Associated Press published today by BusinessWeek.com, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach - head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - rejected the idea of the FDA regulating tobacco products, saying that the approach proposed by Philip Morris and major anti-smoking groups is inappropriate, would increase cigarette consumption, and would make the problem worse, not better.
According to the article: "Government regulation of tobacco could backfire by inadvertently forcing smokers to light up more and inhale more deeply, the head of the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday."
Dr. von Eschenbach was quoted as stating: "We could find ourselves in the conundrum of having made a decision about nicotine only to have made the public health radically worse. And that is not the position FDA is in; we approve products that enhance health, not destroy it. ... What I don't want to see happen is that we are in a position where we are determining that a cigarette is safe."
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This is a crushing blow to the position that jurisdiction over the safety of tobacco products should be placed in the hands of the FDA and that such regulation would substantially improve the public's health.
The FDA wants no part of it, feels that it is an absurd approach, and is concerned that it would harm, rather than protect, the public's health.
Dr. von Eschenbach makes what probably is the strongest argument yet against the proposed FDA tobacco legislation: the Food and Drug Administration is about approving products that treat medical conditions, not cause them.
Ultimately, the FDA is an agency which approves products for use by consumers. How can we ask the FDA to approve a product that we know is going to kill thousands of people?
Dr. von Eschenbach also makes the point I have been trying to make repeatedly over the past few weeks that reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes will cause smokers to inhale more deeply and smoke more and this could make the public's health "radically worse."
It becomes far less tenable to promote this policy proposal when the Agency you are asking to assume jurisdiction over the product doesn't want any part of it. Maybe the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, AMA, and other anti-smoking groups supporting the idea should have spoken with Dr. von Eschenbach first, before trying to ram this misguided idea down the FDA's throat.