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Another Look at the Dems’ Tobacco Bill

The Democrats’ bill placing the tobacco industry under the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration is on its way to the White House, having passed the Senate today, and party leaders are patting themselves on the back for their accomplishment. (Some lawmakers, after all, have been pushing this concept for decades.)

But Paul Smalera, writing in Slate this week, has another approach to the legislation that’s worth a look.

First, he points out, the bill acknowledges the dangers of nicotine but prohibits a ban on the drug. Second, flavored tobaccos are banned, except for menthol cigarettes, which just happen to be favored disproportionately by African-Americans. Third, the bill makes it nearly impossible for tobacco companies to introduce new products, all but solidifying the market-share advantages enjoyed by industry giants today. And fourth, the nation’s largest tobacco company (i.e. market-share leader) is a proud cheerleader for the bill.

Money quote:

“It is a dream come true for Philip Morris,” Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told me. “First, they make it look like they are a reformed company which really cares about reducing the toll of cigarettes and protecting the public’s health; and second, they protect their domination of the market and make it impossible for potentially competitive products to enter the market.” Other tobacco companies have taken to calling the bill the “Marlboro Monopoly Act of 2009.”

It’s the ole “do-you-take-a-half-loaf-or-nothing” question. (And if you like it here, you’re gonna love the looming health reform debate.) But Smalera has a few words about that as well.

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” has been the old saw the administration uses to admonish interest groups dissatisfied with compromise legislation. But opponents of this bill on both sides are asking, What’s the enemy of terrible? Isn’t it this bill, which is racist, protectionist, cynical, and misguided?

And, he adds, soon to be law.

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