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FDA control of tobacco debated

WASHINGTON (BP)–Arguments over the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to regulate tobacco products were aired during an Oct. 3 congressional hearing on the proposed Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

“It is remarkable that a cigarette is subject to less regulation than a lollipop,” said Rep. Henry Waxman., D.-Calif., who is sponsoring H.R. 1108 that would give regulatory control over the production and sales of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to the FDA.

Currently, cigarette companies “add and delete additives without oversight,” said William Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, who testified in favor of the bill. These additives are often toxins, Corr said.

The proposal also would give the FDA control over advertising that markets to teens, candy-flavored tobacco products that appeal to children and cigarette sales to under-age minors.

Congressmen and witnesses alike had mixed opinions about the ability of an already overworked FDA to handle such a massive responsibility, but a large majority agreed that a measure to prevent and reduce tobacco usage is in order. Tobacco usage costs American healthcare systems $96 billion annually, said Rep. Frank Pallone, D.-N.J., chairman of the Subcommittee on Health of the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee.

Faith United Against Tobacco -— of which the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is a participant -— was one of those voices heard in the discussion.

“This legislation is long, long overdue,” said James Winkler, general secretary of the Methodist General Board of Church and Society and chair of Faith United Against Tobacco. He also testified that a variety of faith organizations see an immediate need to act on the bill, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities.

“It is also morally wrong to leave the most impressionable and vulnerable among us, our children, unprotected from the tobacco enticements that confront them,” Winkler said, urging Congress to expedite the legislative process on the bill.

Others who testified during the hearing disagreed with the measure. “I’m not so sure that the Food and Drug Administration is the proper place to regulate tobacco,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R.-Texas, who voiced concern that the FDA lacks the resources for more responsibilities.

Another major concern of critics is the public’s perception of a FDA-regulated tobacco industry. Smoking could be perceived as a safe habit by the use of “FDA approved” terminology, causing the legislation to have the opposite intended effect, said Alan Blum, director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society.

Despite these concerns, 519 public health, medical and faith organizations support the bill, as well as 200 members of Congress who are cosponsoring the legislation.

The FDA’s “objective scientific credentials” and “regulatory expertise” make it a perfect candidate to regulate tobacco, Corr argued.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Winkler appealed to both the majority and minority House leaders in an Oct. 1 letter.

“Speaking with one voice, the vast majority of America’s faith community … strongly supports this legislation,” said the letter, which urged the leaders to cosponsor the bill. “This tragedy will continue as long as our children become addicted at a young age to this product. The public health community has determined that one of the best ways to protect children from tobacco addictions would be to authorize the FDA to regulate tobacco products.”

Land, in previous testimony on the bill in the Senate earlier this year, said, “The FDA, like all federal agencies, like all manmade creations, has flaws, but it has done an enormous amount to protect the American people over the years. This bill, we believe, will help protect the American people and will help to regulate what is too unregulated an industry.”
Erica Simons is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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