Local News

U.S. Supreme Court Rules FDA Cannot Regulate Tobacco As Drug

Posted March 20, 2000

— The tobacco industry received the news it wanted to hear on Tuesday. In a monumental decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled theFood and Drug Administrationcannot regulate tobacco products as a drug.

The people who work in the state's tobacco fields expressed only mild relief about the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision snuffing out the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco as a drug.

"We got a lot of hurdles that we're by no means at the end of the track," says tobacco farmer Teresa Canoy.

In Washington, anti-smoking forces in Congress say they must now pass legislation to let the FDA regulate tobacco as a drug.

"Now the finger is pointed appropriately at Congress, and we ought to get moving," says Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno says she hopes Congress passes legislation that would protect children.

"I very much hope that after today's decision, Congress will pass legislation that would protect children by restricting advertising, and limiting access to tobacco products and giving the FDA clear authority to regulate tobacco," Reno says.

A lot of farmers say they would rather see this battle fought in Congress anyway.

"When they do, we hope that then we can have some significant and material input rather than strictly being outsiders wondering what the judicial process will bring to us," says Billy Carter, president of North Carolina Tobacco Growers.

Governor Jim Hunt says tobacco regulation can be handled even closer to home.

"Well, I never thought that was the FDA's responsibility," Hunt says. "I think this does make clearer, however, that states have the responsibility to stop teenage smoking."

Youth smoking is a huge concern in the state. According to theAmerican Lung Association, the adult smoking rate is 24 percent, but for kids under 18, it is 38 percent.

"It is a great irony that we can take this product that we know is harmful when it's used as intended, and there's no regulation from the health end," says Deborah Bryan of the American Lung Association.

Tobacco supporters know the Supreme Court decision hardly ends their battles.

"Tobacco's always under attack, whether it's from the anti-tobacco forces and some international forces," says Larry Wooten, president of theNorth Carolina Farm Bureau. "Even the World Health Organization is now beginning to zoom in on tobacco."

The ruling throws out the FDA's rule that requires store clerks to check the IDs of anyone who looks like they are younger than 27. However, a national law still prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 18.

In a side note, the stocks of all three tobacco giants gained ground after the ruling.

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