Panel Recommends FDA Oversight of Tobacco
A federal panel, commissioned by former President Bill Clinton, has released a preliminary report recommending that the FDA be allowed to regulate tobacco for "health reasons," the AP/New York Times reports. The 10-member panel, comprised of economic development experts, tobacco farmers and antismoking advocates, was established by Clinton in September to provide tobacco farmers an "economic lift while protecting the public from the hazards of smoking" (AP/New York Times, 1/27). The 42-page draft report, entitled "Tobacco Communities at a Crossroad," recommends the "FDA should have authority to establish fair and equitable regulatory controls over the manufacture, sale, distribution and labeling of tobacco products, comparable to regulations for other products regulated by the FDA. Such regulations should have as their goal the protection of public health." The report also recommends that the federal government compensate farmers who stop growing the crop, suggesting a federal quota buyout (Begos, Winston-Salem Journal, 1/27). In a quota buyout, farmers would be paid for relinquishing their quotas that "dictate how much tobacco they can grow annually" (New York Times, 1/27). Financial assistance would help farmers "diversify their crops and local economies to reduce dependence on tobacco income," the report states (AP/Charlotte Observer, 1/26). The report suggests that assistance come from tobacco taxes or the 1998 national tobacco settlement (AP/New York Times, 1/27).
Andrew Shepherd, a member of the commission and a Virginia tobacco grower, said farmers who were once opposed to FDA regulation may begin to see the benefits of such regulation. "As a consumer, I certainly wouldn't mind a lot more information on that [cigarette] pack, where it's from, how it's manufactured and what else is in there," he said (AP/New York Times, 1/27). Arnold Hamm, assistant general manager of Raleigh-based Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Corp., said, "There are a significant number of farmers who believe there should be some kind of FDA regulation. If we have a more tightly controlled material, yes, there is some potential marketing benefit for farmers" (Winston-Salem Journal, 1/27). Even tobacco giant Philip Morris, the nation's leading cigarette manufacturer, voiced approval for the commission's recommendations. Spokesperson Brendan McCormick said, "Having a set of defined rules will help bring greater stability and predictability to our business." Last year, legislation that would have granted the FDA oversight of tobacco failed in Congress, but Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the commission's report "is going to give us a good shot in the arm to get this thing moving." The report has been forwarded to President Bush, but spokesperson Ari Fleisher said it has not yet been reviewed (AP/New York Times, 1/27). The commission's final report is due in May and will include "more detailed" recommendations for Congress and the White House (AP/Charlotte Observer, 1/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.