The Corner

Is Legislation Anti-Tobacco or Pro-Philip Morris?

Today’s NYT editorial on the tobacco regulation bill is interesting.  The Times claims the bill is an “enormous victory for public health,” yet cites estimates that it will only reduce youth andadult smoking by 11 and 2 percent over the next decade.  That doesn’t sound like much.  Further, the editorial reports the bill “might not have passed without the decision by Philip Morris, the industry leader, to accept regulation. The company apparently believes it can thrive better under regulation than its competitors, who complain that it will now be much harder for them to introduce new products to challenge Philip Morris’s dominance.”  Hmmm.  Could there be a connection?  Consider further that one likely effect of the legislation is to make it more difficult to market tobacco-based alternatives to cigarettes, such as “Snus” or various forms of smokeless tobacco, that are a less deadly way for smokers to obtain their nicotine fix.  This certainly benefits incumbent firms, like Philip Morris, and could actually harm public health.  Another provision of the bill will empower the FDA to reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes.  Yet insofar as many smokers smoke for the nicotine, this could mean that some will smoke more cigarettes to satisfy the same habit.  And this will be good for public health how?  The more one looks at this bill, the less it seems like a genuine “public health” measure — and yet it will still give the federal government tremendous new regulatory control over a legal industry.  Like so much these days, the bill represents the marriage of big government and big business, and there’s little left for the little guy.

Jonathan H. Adler — Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in environmental, administrative, and constitutional law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

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