Cigarette smoking is one of the major preventable scourges of human health. Public health experts and regulators—and yes, even smokers—know it. But by being politically correct and focusing on unproven or misguided approaches, the FDA is passing up a historic opportunity to mitigate the health effects of cigarette smoking. Specifically, FDA officials are struggling to reconcile science and politics in applying their new powers to regulate tobacco. They aren't succeeding.
As a result of the landmark 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA was tasked with regulating not just cigarettes, but a range of tobacco products. The agency’s oversight of tobacco is fundamentally different from any other product it regulates simply because tobacco is an inherently, irredeemably dangerous product. Unlike drugs, it isn’t beneficial in any way; and unlike food, it isn't a necessity.
The legislation gives the FDA the authority to review and ban proposed new products unless they are proven to significantly improve public health. This has already led to unanticipated legal and scientific arguments over so-called “reduced harm” products.
The director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Dr. Lawrence Deyton, seemed to be on the right track, at least in principle, when he told the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco last year that “complex problems require multi-faceted, comprehensive approaches based on the best available science.”
However, the agency’s approach to several regulatory issues belies Deyton’s homage to science (a traditional trapping of many a regulator assuming a new office).