Giant Step Backward

The moment that ACSH staffers have been dreading has finally arrived. The U.S. Senate approved the bill granting regulatory authority of tobacco to the FDA. Senate majority leader Dick Durbin was among those congratulating themselves, claiming, The tobacco companies' days of peddling one of the most deadly products in the world have finally come to an end. ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is incredulous. I m sure Phillip Morris will be heart-broken, he said, referring to the fact that Altria, parent company of Phillip Morris, coauthored the bill, making sure to secure their market against competitors and smokeless tobacco alternatives.

A New York Times editorial quotes Congressional Budget Office estimates predicting an 11% decline in teen smoking and a 2% decline in adult smoking over the next decade. Where s the miracle here? asks Dr. Ross, Slightly over one percent of teens per year is not a dramatic accomplishment, and those are rosy estimates to begin with.

ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan is not as optimistic as the Congressional Budget Office: The passage of this bill will make harm reduction education much more difficult. It is an absolute travesty that the FDA, the organization responsible for ensuring the safety of our food and medicine, is now overseeing a leading cause of death in America. That sort of oversight implies that the product is safe.

The bill reinforces this illusion from another vantage point as well. Altria put out a press release saying that they were going to comply completely with the law, says ACSH's Jeff Stier, thereby portraying themselves as an innocent company that is abiding by FDA standards. They re basically immune to litigation.

Dr. Ross doesn t doubt that Altria will abide by the law: They re more than happy to comply with FDA. It s a business contract for them. Financial analysts predict great things for Phillip Morris, so that says it all. Despite this setback, we ll continue to work with other anti-smoking groups that are not just interested in politics in order to reduce smoking in America.