FDA Needs Power Over Tobacco

Once again, legislators on Capitol Hill have introduced bills that would give the Food and Drug Administration needed authority over tobacco products - this time with more cosponsors. Instead of stalling the bills in committee as was done last year, Congress should pass them.

Among other provisions, the bills include giving the FDA jurisdiction over the warning labels on cigarette packages and tobacco products - for both the size of the warning itself and its language. Warnings that are larger and more explicit than they are now regarding the effects attributed to smoking should help scare off more would-be users.

The measures would also give the FDA the power to require tobacco companies to disclose any ingredients they've added to cigarettes, along with the ability to order removal of those ingredients it considers harmful. And the FDA would have authority to ban the sale of fruit- or candy-flavored cigarettes. That's especially needed, because an estimated 4,000 children a day try their first cigarette, and because big tobacco clearly has worked to glamorize smoking to youth. (The issue is so serious, several states are considering similar legislation.)

Philip Morris, the world's largest cigarette manufacturer, supports the idea of the FDA having such controls, saying at least there will be a set of clear rules. Its critics say that with the FDA setting standards on nicotine content, big tobacco would be less vulnerable to the lawsuits from smokers.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts said in March when re-introducing these important measures, "The largest disinformation campaign in the history of the corporate world must end." He's right.

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