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May 2004
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Tobacco, Drugs, and Regulation

Adam J. Smith of Progressive Capitalist has a very interesting post on recent moves to have the FDA assume regulatory control over tobacco. In part:

We live in a society in which most “recreational” drugs are prohibited. That is to say, they are completely unregulated. Illegal under almost all circumstances to produce, market and possess, recreational drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine, psychadellics and heroin are nonetheless easily available without age restriction, purity requirements, or labelling in every part of the country. Perversely, the very fact of their prohibition means that these substances are more, rather than less likely to be sold to young people, and are often the self-medication of last resort for thousands of mentally ill people who lack medical insurance or prescription drug coverage. …

So what does all of that have to do with Tobacco? If the FDA does gain authority over tobacco products we as a society will have an opportunity for a serious debate on what it means to rationally and effectively regulate potentially harmful — along with some not-so-harmful — recreational substances in a free society. Right now, the debate is often mis-framed as an either-or choice between all-out prohibition, with its attendant unintended consequences, and the type of loose regulation that we have now with tobacco (and to a lesser extent, alcohol) meaning few labelling requirements, broad-based (if somewhat restricted) advertising, and a product that is available in every corner convenience store in every community in the nation.

The post is well thought out and quite provocative. To his credit, Adam recognizes the potential dangers that can come from over-regulation (increased black-market, etc.) and doesn’t assume that regulation can cure all ills (on either side). I’m not sure I’m as optimistic, given our government’s reputation — I figure that this move toward regulating tobacco might just as easily create a new “war on tobacco” prohibition spree (Adam also notes this possibility). But I’d like to believe that he’s right and a rational discussion could take place.
Read the full post. What do you think? Can FDA regulation of tobacco actually help create a sane drug policy?

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