In an op-ed piece appearing today in the Washington Times, Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan - Executive Director of the American Council on Science and Health - blasts the proposed FDA tobacco legislation, arguing that it would actually harm and not protect the public's health.
Dr. Whelan writes that: "The bill's proponents, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, argue that FDA authority over tobacco will lead to a safer cigarette, stronger warning labels and a reduction in cigarette-related deaths. At first blush, this sounds like great news. But tragically, the proposed legislation will have exactly the opposite effect -- and will likely increase smoking-related deaths."
Dr. Whelan provides four arguments to back up her assertion that the legislation would not improve the public's health, and would in fact could cause great harm.
First, she argues that the regulatory framework of the bill - asking FDA to reduce levels of specific constituents in tobacco smoke - makes no sense since there are thousands of toxins in the smoke and it is not any one or a small number of these chemicals that are responsible for the harmful effects of smoking.
Second, she notes that the bill would ask the FDA to reduce, but not eliminate nicotine in cigarettes. This would result in increased cigarette consumption (and increased health effects) due to the phenomenon of compensation (smokers would smoke more to inhale the same amount of nicotine as they do now).
Third, the bill does not allow for any suggestion that one type of tobacco product may be less harmful than another. This makes it difficult for the risks of the products to be communicated accurately.
Fourth, the bill would create an FDA stamp of approval for tobacco products, misleading people about the true hazards of cigarettes and providing virtual legal immunity for the tobacco companies.
The Rest of the Story
There is little I can add to Dr. Whelan's well-argued, cogent, and compelling commentary on this legislation. I can only hope that policy makers will take heed to her comments.
But more importantly, I hope that the strength of her argument will cause the major health groups championing this proposal - the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Heart Association - to realize the error of their ways and to immediately withdraw their support of the bill. That would be a true service to the public's health.