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A strong message on tobacco

Regulation of tobacco soon will be where it belongs: with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The fiction that nicotine is not a drug that should be regulated has been promoted by the big tobacco companies long enough. The failure of Congress to concede the obvious about tobacco and cigarettes has been a testament to Big Tobacco's clout. That influence, while still considerable, has diminished in large part because the American people have, by large majorities, used local and state ballot boxes to express their displeasure with tobacco use in all its forms in public places. The private sector has done the same in offices, retail stores and nearly all other buildings.

In other words, Congress is catching up with the country. Cigarettes are legal drug delivery devices. The drug, nicotine, is a highly addictive substance. Its addictive qualities and the health consequences associated with other substances created by inhaling tobacco smoke have been known to the industry for years, yet tobacco companies hid the evidence. Just a few years ago company executives lined up before a congressional committee and lied about the effects of smoking. That sorry spectacle speeded the turn of the nation against the companies and their products.

Regulating and testing drugs is the FDA's job. Guarding public health as it relates to drug use is the FDA's job. The agency should have had jurisdiction over tobacco decades ago. But now that it will have that authority, the FDA must have resources to do the job. One of the objections to the legislation was that the FDA hasn't got the resources to meet its current mandate, let alone add tobacco regulation to the portfolio. But that concern should be overcome by fees on industry called for in the bill, which will generate up to $700 million to be used by the FDA to enforce new rules.

The rules are unprecedented, ranging from bans on certain types of cigarettes to restrictions on advertising and packaging. But it's the overall regulation of the industry by the FDA that changes the game for Big Tobacco - and ramps up efforts to reduce tobacco use.

In the past decade the industry spent $308 million to block the FDA bill. That it passed this time confirms Congress at last has recognized that a vast majority of Americans understand the health risks of tobacco use. The industry's defense of its toxic products has been rejected. -- The Forum