Feature

Regulating Big Tobacco

Can giving the FDA power over the cigarette industry be a win for public health, and for Marlboro?

Take that, Big Tobacco,  said The New York Times in an editorial. In an “enormous victory” for public health and a blow to the “rogue” tobacco industry’s ability to “inflict its harmful products on Americans with impunity," the Senate has cleared a bill that will finally let the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products. The bill isn’t perfect—it prevents the FDA from banning cigarettes—but it will force cigarette makers to list ingredients, curtail marketing, and stop using most flavorings “used to lure first-time smokers.”

It’s true that cigarettes have killed tens of millions of smokers and cost the health-care system trillions of dollars, said Douglas McIntyre in 24/7 Wall Street, but “it is equally true that legislating control of people’s habits, especially the ones that they find pleasurable, is impossible”—just look at the “war on drugs.” The law also isn’t entirely bad for Big Tobacco: Once the FDA starts signing off on cigarette marketing and chemical additives, it will be harder to sue the cigarette makers.

It’s still the “most devastating legislative blow in history to Big Tobacco,” said Kate Pickert in Time, and all the major cigarette makers fought it—except Marlboro maker Philip Morris. With about half of U.S. smokers safely in its pocket, Philip Morris has reason to “lock in its market dominance” by limiting all cigarette advertising and promotion.

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