Monday, April 13, 2009

Tobacco Road

Tobacco is bad for you. In 2009, there shouldn't be any debate about this statement -- but some Michigan lawmakers are taking issue with it.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (H.R. 1256). This bill gives the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco and tobacco products. In plain English:
The bill doesn't give the FDA power to ban existing tobacco products but gives the agency power to restrict sales on safety grounds. The FDA also would be able to stop companies from touting their brands as "low tar" and "mild" and restrict advertising to plain black-and-white ads. Health advocates say advertising restrictions are a key tool to keeping tobacco products away from children and young adults.
Supporters of H.R. 1256 included the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the American Cancer Society.

No prize for guessing how Mike Rogers voted... he was one of the 112 members who thought the FDA had no business regulating tobacco.

Not only did Mr. Rogers vote against it, but he threw in four separate amendments to try and block it. All of them failed, largely because they were silly: the FDA couldn't regulate tobacco until the until the Secretary of HHS certifies that the FDA had "approved or disapproved" "all of the heart disease drugs... for the therapy of those in need," as well as "all pediatric cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and human papilloma virus drugs."

All drugs? For someone who receives quite a lot of funding from the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Rogers should know that there isn't an endpoint for drug development. There's always something in the pipeline; to say that "all" drugs must be approved or disapproved before allowing the FDA to do something sounds remarkably like Cinderella's stepmother -- setting an impossible list of chores as a condition of going to the ball.

When his "all or nothing" approach didn't work, Mr. Rogers tried the "fiscally responsible" gambit. He tossed in an amendment that would require the FDA to fund tobacco regulation exclusively from user fees, rather than "overburdening" the FDA's general fund. Sounds reasonable, until you learn that the bill uses general fund monies for only the first six months, then it rolls over to user fee funding. in addition, the money borrowed from the general fund would be paid back from money collected in user fees.

A Lansing State Journal editorial makes an important point:
This isn't about partisanship. Michigan Republicans Vern Ehlers and Dave Camp said yes in the final vote on the FDA bill... [skip] And Mike Rogers could have backed the FDA bill as a step in the right direction, once it was clear his own alternative would not pass.
Cigarette smoking is responsible for roughly 1 out of every 5 deaths in the U.S. each year. Here in Michigan, 21% of adults are smokers -- higher than the national average (19%). Michigan women are more likely to smoke than the average woman; Michigan's cancer rates for both men and women are also higher than the national rate.

The picture is even more grim for Michigan's kids. Our state is ranked 47th out of 50 in protecting children from tobacco. 18% of our high school students smoke. Smoking-related health care costs Michigan $3.4 billion each year. And the tobacco industry is spending $415.9 million in marketing right here in Michigan.

Why would any responsible adult think that all this was worth protecting?

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