Washington Babylon — July 21, 2008, 8:30 am

Congress and Menthols

From a reader: “This might be the sickest, slickest thing to come out of Congress since the Dems took over, and, I think, something that Henry Waxman is losing a lot of sleep over. Waxman got Phillip Morris and the AMA to sign on to a measure that would put tobacco under the FDA, which on its own is a big deal. But as part of the compromise, the FDA has no regulatory jurisdiction over the content of advertising, or–critically–menthol cigarettes. Menthols are a) more addictive b) more carcinogenic and c) smoked more by young people and African Americans.

Yet other than a recent piece (not available online) by Shawn Zeller of CQ, there’s been very little coverage of the issue:

Food and Drug Administration authority over the tobacco industry has long been a goal of smoking’s opponents, but aggressive lobbying by tobacco companies has staved it off. However, now that the House seems on the verge of acting on legislation by Democrat Henry A. Waxman of California to grant the FDA regulatory authority, a group of doctors is lobbying to stop the measure — on the grounds that it would not go far enough.

Nearly 700 public health and medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, have lined up behind
Waxman’s bill. So it would seem to be an uphill climb for the 200-member American
Association of Public Health Physicians to oppose it, especially since the legislation has even received the blessing of the largest U.S. cigarettemaker, Philip Morris USA.

But the public health doctors insist the compromise Waxman struck with Philip Morris would do too much to accommodate tobacco interests. “The bottom line is that if this bill is passed, it will do more harm than good,” says Joel Nitzkin, who heads the physicians’ group. “It gives the image of FDA authority, but not the substance.”

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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