June 01, 2008
As I see it
The worst idea on Capitol Hill right now involves giving the FDA control of tobacco. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (HR 1108) passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee 38-12 in April and has the support of 218 congressmen and 56 senators, to say nothing of the more than 630 health, civic, church and youth organizations standing behind it.
With momentum like that, it seems unstoppable. When people rally behind a powerful, do-good idea like this, they seldom bother to consider “soft” negative practicalities, like the potential damage to the inner esprit de corps of the agency they're assigning their mission to.
In the FDA's case, internal morale is already at rock-bottom after more than two decades of political emasculation, resource reduction and unfunded new mandates from Congress. True, HR 1108 would be notionally self-funding through user fees and other charges on producers of tobacco products, but these revenues would take years to kick in.
In the meantime, the FDA would be organizationally disrupted, crippling overdue reforms in beleaguered areas of its core responsibilities—like drugs, medical devices and foods.
The last time Congress gave the FDA an assignment beyond its ken was in 1966, when it told the agency to regulate drugs of abuse. The FDA made such a mess of this that within two years Congress backtracked and drugs of abuse ended up in a brand-new agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, in 1973.
The bill's goals are laudable, but the FDA is the wrong agency to implement those goals. Like the American lives it is charged with safeguarding, the FDA would be destroyed by tobacco.
Dickinson is editor of Dickinson's FDA Webview (fdaweb.com).