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Public Statements

Tobacco Regulation

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I wish to say a few words about the FDA legislation we have been debating on the floor this week. First, I thank Senator Enzi for his hard work in managing this bill. He always does a great job. I also wish to acknowledge Senator Burr's thoughtful leadership on this legislation. This is a complicated set of issues. No one--I repeat, no one--knows the intricacies better than the Senator from North Carolina, Mr. Burr. He has been a good friend and ally of producers and growers dating back to his days in the House, and he has offered a thoughtful alternative to this very flawed legislation which we have before us.

A few years ago, I led the effort in Congress to enact a tobacco buyout which ended the Federal Government's support of tobacco production. Although the number of tobacco farms in Kentucky has decreased as a result of that legislation, thousands of Kentucky farm families and communities still depend on the income from tobacco production. I have concerns about the effect this legislation might have on them.

Still, no one in this Chamber would deny that tobacco is hazardous to the health of those who use it. Everyone knows that. If the purpose of this bill is to reduce the harm it could cause the people who consume it, then forcing the Food and Drug Administration to do the regulating would be the wrong route to take.

Former FDA Administrator Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach has predicted that forcing the FDA to regulate tobacco would undermine the agency's core mission of protecting the public health and ensuring that foods, medicines, and other products don't pose a risk to American consumers. When the FDA approves a product, Americans expect the product to be safe, but as we all know, there is no such thing as a safe cigarette. It doesn't exist. Forcing the FDA to regulate cigarettes will not make them safer for the American people.

This legislation is flawed for other reasons as well. As Senators Burr, Enzi, and others have repeatedly pointed out, the FDA is already overworked in carrying out its core mission of protecting the public health. When it comes to contaminated peanut butter, tainted toothpaste, or unsafe drugs coming into the United States, Americans expect that all of FDA's resources are being used to protect them. Yet instead of freeing additional resources for the FDA to perform this important function, this legislation could divert the agency's limited resources toward an impossible task: Vouching for the safety of a product that cannot be made safe. The American people don't want the FDA's resources diverted on a fool's errand.

It is hard to understand what the supporters of this bill are trying to accomplish. If the goal is to reduce smoking, then why isn't there a single dime--not one dime--in this bill directed at smoking cessation programs? If there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, the best way to help smokers is to help them kick the habit. This bill doesn't do that. If the goal of this legislation is to launch a public campaign to reduce smoking and promote better health, then why is there no focus on Federal programs that are already in place to achieve this goal?

This legislation is the wrong way to regulate tobacco, and that is why Senator Burr will offer a thoughtful way to accomplish the goal. Senator Burr's proposal would create a new agency whose sole responsibility is to regulate tobacco. This would address the problem without undermining FDA's mission or straining its resources.

Forcing the FDA to regulate and approve the use of tobacco would be a distortion of the agency's mission and a tremendous misuse of its overstretched resources. We should be focused on giving FDA the resources it needs to protect the public health, not burdening it with an impossible assignment.

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