For decades the Food and Drug Administration has wanted to find a way to regulate tobacco products. The effort came close in the early 1990s when then-Commissioner David Kessler went after the tobacco industry in a very outspoken and public way. His bold attempts were thwarted by his bosses at President George H.W. Bush’s White House. But in June 2009, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA all the authority it finally needed to ask for — and get — tobacco industry data, and to take tobacco products off the market.
The Rose Garden signing last year was a giddy moment, with a huge list of attendees from physician organizations, public health groups, and childrens’ advocates.
After many years of talk and no action, anti-tobacco forces essentially had their scientific day in court this week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the advisory panel charged with helping the FDA regulate tobacco met for the first time in Washington.
Surprisingly, there were no crowds of consumer advocates teeming to get a look at tobacco industry information. There were no hordes protesting the potential government intrusion on smokers’ rights. Just a smattering of attendees and a handful of reporters. Granted, the two days were webcast, but, generally, FDA meetings on hot topics get jammed up with people even if there is an available stream on the Internet.
The panel of experts were very business-like, but made it pretty clear that there was nothing they would not ask for from the tobacco manufacturers. The first order of business is to decide whether menthol should be restricted or banned (see my story here). By late May or late July, depending on when the committee meets again, makers of menthol cigarettes will have to explain what menthol does, why it’s in a cigarette, how it is delivered, how they determine how much to put in, and whether they purposely market to certain racial groups and why.
Maybe there will be more fireworks in the future.
— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)