July 31, 2008

Tobacco Bill Ignores Goals

By Richard Burr

In the name of improving the public's health, Congress is considering a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broad regulatory authority over tobacco. Unfortunately, if improved public health is the goal, this bill misses the mark. In fact, it could do more harm than good.

The bill would bar manufacturers from introducing reduced-risk tobacco products until long-term studies are conducted. These studies can take 20 to 30 years to complete. Even after decades and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to complete the studies, there is no guarantee that the FDA will approve the lower risk products. Why would we want to keep higher-risk products on store shelves by preventing manufacturers from bringing lower-risk products to the market?

Even worse, this bill would severely impede the FDA's core mission. The FDA is responsible for ensuring that food, drugs, medical devices and cosmetics -- 25% of the U.S. marketplace -- are safe, effective and properly labeled. If recent headlines about the safety of the nation's food supply are any indication, the agency is already struggling to do its job.

Adding tobacco to the list would stretch the FDA even more. In fact, the bill before Congress could shortchange the FDA's budget by $2 billion over five years, forcing the agency to move staff and resources away from food and drug matters. This means more breakdowns in the safety of our food supply and longer approval times for life-saving drugs. It may even prevent new, life-saving drugs from being approved. This is why the head of the FDA, who is also the former director of the National Cancer Institute and a cancer survivor, opposes it.

We do not need another government bureaucracy to tell us the obvious: Cigarettes are not safe. If we want to improve public health, we ought to do more to keep kids from even thinking about lighting a cigarette. And for those Americans who are struggling to quit, we need to at least offer them safer options. Unfortunately, the bill currently before Congress does neither.

Richard Burr, R, represents North Carolina in the U.S. Senate. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>