Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
What is it with the Left that they want to ban nearly everything that is fun or convenient? Gas stoves, dishwashers, plastic straws, gas cars, snowmobiles and diving boards. And now the health busybodies want to ban certain cigars.
Recently, a gang of senators led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wrote a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf urging the agency to ban (or heavily regulate) flavored cigar sales. Under pressure from the health lobby, the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products said it’s primed to take action in the weeks ahead. They say underage teenagers are smoking these cigars and are at risk of becoming addicted.
This makes as much sense as banning scotch because kids might smuggle a bottle from Dad’s liquor cabinet, or outlawing R-rated movies because 14-year-olds occasionally sneak into the theater.
In 2009, Congress and President Barack Obama enacted the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to give the federal government the tools it needs to keep cigarettes, vapes and other addictive tobacco substances out of our children’s hands. Now, however, the FDA is using this authority to advance its political agenda in ways that exceed the original intent and purpose of the legislation.
The notion that the FDA needs to act to stop teenagers from smoking flavored cigars is simply not true.
Youth smoking of cigars, including flavored cigars, has plummeted to historic lows over the years. The FDA should know these statistics because they were the ones who funded the definitive study published by The New England Journal of Medicine. This study analyzed the tobacco use of 13,651 children, from 12 to 17 years old, and it shows that only 2.3% had ever smoked a traditional cigar, and less than 1% (0.7%) had tried one within the past 30 days. That’s hardly an epidemic of cigar-smoking youngsters.
Last year, a federal judge ruled the FDA’s decision to try to regulate premium cigars was “arbitrary and capricious” because the agency failed to acknowledge data that these products are not used by youth and, due to their usage patterns, have very different health risks. This verdict from the court, questioning the scientific basis of the FDA’s actions, makes the agency’s insistence on finalizing its flavored cigar rule by the fall even more questionable.
What is clear is we have here a case of regulatory overreach by a nonelected federal bureau. Back in 2009, opponents of the new law warned that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act would become a slippery slope toward bans on smoking products even for adults. The bill’s advocates promised on a stack of Bibles that the law wouldn’t interfere with adults’ freedom to choose; rather, it would merely keep minors from smoking.
We now learn that this was a classic bait-and-switch move by the anti-smoking brigades. The anti-smoking lobby in Congress assigned new powers to regulators and the advocates all along, knowing this day of a ban would be coming.
I should say that I don’t smoke — except on very rare occasions, such as at a wedding. But even if you hate cigars or smoking in general, we should all recognize the danger here of letting unelected bureaucrats make these decisions. Who are they accountable to?
If Congress wants to ban vaping, smoking or certain types of cigars, they should vote on it. I suspect that few members of Congress would dare vote to outlaw cigars. It would create such a backlash from people who enjoy smoking that many in Congress would be tossed out of office.
What is doubly ironic and hypocritical here is that the real health hazard to America’s youth is the proliferation of toxic drugs — from fentanyl to opioids to cocaine. Abuse of these drugs has made drug overdoses a leading cause of death for Americans under 18. What is Congress’ reaction to that genuine killer epidemic?
Not a thing. They do nothing to stop the drug runners from crossing the border with their addictive and dangerous arsenal. They slap the wrists of the offenders when they are caught. Where is the FDA’s campaign to stop the killing? Flavored cigars aren’t good for our children, but they don’t turn our children into zombies or corpses.
If the FDA wants to improve public health, it could save tens of thousands of lives by speeding up the drug approval process so we can win the race to cure cancer, heart disease, epilepsy and diabetes. Let parents regulate what their teenagers are doing.
Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. His latest book is “Govzilla: How the Relentless Growth of Government Is Devouring Our Economy.”
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