Jacob Sullum

To make that judgment, the FDA is supposed to consider "the increased or decreased likelihood that persons who do not use tobacco products will start using the tobacco product that is the subject of the application" as well as "the increased or decreased likelihood that existing users of tobacco products who would otherwise stop using such products will switch to the tobacco product that is the subject of the application." In other words, the FDA could decide to keep a demonstrably safer cigarette off the market because it might attract new smokers or dissuade current smokers from quitting.

Worse, an existing product can be deemed a "modified risk tobacco product" subject to FDA approval if its manufacturer indicates on the package, in advertising, or in any other form that it's less hazardous than cigarettes. If an executive at a smokeless tobacco company mentioned in a TV interview or an op-ed piece that his products were much safer than cigarettes, which is indisputably true, those products could suddenly be considered illegal.

Here the concern is not fraud but accurate information that consumers might "misuse" (by, for example, switching from cigarettes to oral snuff instead of giving up tobacco altogether). As far as this bill's authors are concerned, you can't handle the truth.

The bill not only authorizes the prohibition of safer tobacco products and the censorship of potentially lifesaving information about relative risks, it gives the FDA permission to make cigarettes more dangerous by ordering reductions in nicotine content. Such a mandate, aimed at making cigarettes less attractive to new smokers, would force current smokers to absorb higher levels of toxins and carcinogens to obtain their usual doses of nicotine.

According to its supporters, this bill, backed by the biggest tobacco company, will enable the FDA to protect smokers from Big Tobacco. Who will protect smokers from the FDA?

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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