In an embarrassing blow to supporters of a proposal by which the FDA would assume jurisdiction over the safety of deadly tobacco products, the head of the FDA -- Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach -- testified Wednesday that he wants no part in the idea and feels that it would undermine the underlying mission of the FDA.
Dr. Von Eschenbach did not attend the hearing in person because he was not afforded the usual courtesy -- almost always provided to Administration officials -- of being asked to provide individual testimony (rather than being part of a panel).
In balking at the proposal, which is widely supported by anti-smoking groups, the current FDA Commissioner argued that asking the Agency to approve a product which is inherently dangerous runs counter to the basic mission of the FDA: to ensure the safety of the nation's food and drug supply. In addition, he stated that such a task would be a huge diversion that would make it more difficult for the Agency to carry out its mission.
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It is certainly not a good sign when the head of the agency that you wish to imbue with regulatory responsibility not only rejects that notion, but argues that doing so would undermine the basic public health mission of the agency.
Dr. von Eschenbach is right. What sense does it make to ask the FDA to approve a product that is inherently hazardous? How can the FDA approve such a product for sale in the United States? Why would we want the government to become in part responsible for the deaths of thousands of American consumers by virtue of having approved a product that caused those deaths?
The FDA Commissioner's message is loud and clear. It is time for the anti-smoking groups to go back to the drawing board and develop a more sensible national strategy for the prevention and control of tobacco use.
The debate over FDA legislation has become a huge diversion that is distracting attention away from what otherwise could have been a wonderful opportunity to enact a meaningful policy to reduce tobacco use and save countless lives.