The Food and Drug Administration is in damage control mode following a series of self-inflicted mishaps from the infant formula crisis to the backlash generated from its many proposed changes to smoke-free policy.
Less than a month after hiring an MSNBC talking head to help with the agency’s public messaging efforts, the FDA announced it was commissioning a review of its food and tobacco programs amid mounting criticism. The review, which must be carried out by the independent body Reagan Udall Foundationwill review the department’s operations as FDA Commissioner Robert Califf pushes for expanded powers despite ongoing missteps.
Similar to other Biden administration blame-shifting efforts, the agency is quick to blame policy failures on messaging missteps. Amid skyrocketing violent crime rates, record inflation, and an ongoing humanitarian crisis on America’s southern border, it’s no wonder the White House is trying to turn away from the negative coverage with shiny object proposals like a blanket ban on menthol and a reduction in nicotine levels in cigarettes.
One problem with this approach: it is not based on science! Instead, these moves serve as political moves designed to deflect attention from the Biden administration’s inability to secure victories with its base ahead of what is expected to be a midterm election for Democrats.
As Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. recently noted in The Wall Street Journalagency plans to phase out nicotine in cigarettes will only push smokers “to light more often and pull harder to get the nicotine hit you want.” His ban on Juul, meanwhile, pushes “the most popular consumer product on the market that allows people to consume nicotine without the side effects of smoking.”
It’s not just anecdotal. According to Public Health England, the UK equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),
“Electronic cigarettes are 95% less harmful to health than normal cigarettes.” This is largely because the tar and toxic chemicals released by burning tobacco when you smoke cigarettes are what cause cancer, not nicotine. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that vaping can help smokers quit altogether. Unfortunately, as Americans have seen during the coronavirus pandemic, many of the so-called “public health” mandates implemented by the current administration are driven by politics, not data or science.
Bizarrely, these policies disproportionately target African-American and low-income communities — whom the White House has pledged to protect — with the threat of persecution or worse health problems. According to the CDC, about 85% of black smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, compared to less than 30% of white smokers. This imbalance sets up black communities for more violent interactions with police despite President Biden’s promises to eradicate “Systemic racism in our criminal justice system and in our institutions in general. I recently gave an op-ed on my radio show about the FDA’s proposed menthol ban:
The FDA’s credibility has been on the line for well over a year, with just 37% of Americans saying they have a great deal of trust in the agency as of May 2021. The Biden administration’s latest moves to target tobacco products amid a series of unrelated policy failures are sure to further reduce that number. With double-digit US inflation amid looming economic turmoil, Biden’s decision to focus on banning menthol cigarettes and Juul devices is not only politically unwise, but ethically repugnant.