Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Tobacco regulation making the rounds...again

An editorial in the Washington Post this morning summarizes a view that tobacco regulation should be quickly enacted. There is even a sense of hope that seems almost wistful in the concisely written piece.

There is little doubt that tobacco products, and more explicitly, the nicotine contained within, should be regulated in some way by a government oversight board. The argument goes that such regulation can further anti-smoking efforts, specifically toward children.

However, it is vital to restate one additional priority. With widespread information, backed up by legitimate and scientific facts, generally unavailable on most herbs, chemicals, and additives, there needs to be an independent clearinghouse to investigate and report on such items, much like Consumer Reports in the commercial sector. The FDA portends to offer such investigatory power to existing independent agencies, but the resulting political maneuvering often distorts the results.

No one can deny the power of big business, tobacco a long-time king of the bunch, to influence policy decisions, and, as the Post also reported today, the FDA often has a hard time walking the fine line in medicinal regulation between underprotection and overwarning. Bringing tobacco into the realm of government regulation is commendable, and necessary, but does not go nearly far enough to provide any basis of faith in its authority. The only way to overcome such integral concern is to establish an independent, non-partisan agency, with full investigatory powers, which presents factually-based information to the public. This helps lessen the information vacuum of the present, while providing a layer of regulation for the public good.

As the Post pointed out, doctors should have the ability to view study data in order to most effectively and knowledgeably treat patients. Caveats understood, many physicians would be able to apply the information contained in the studies in a much more personalized manner for special cases.

The need to offer raw, untouched data is vital in any open society, and is the cornerstone of honest, intelligent dialog.

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