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Regardless of how you feel about any given government shutdown, they do provide a great opportunity to evaluate what the government is actually doing when agencies are funded. A strong argument can be made that President Trump and his supporters should be eager to reopen the government so that the administration can continue its unprecedented work in cutting regulatory red tape.
However, this is not so much the case when it comes to the Food and Drug Administration. Some of the current agenda items at the FDA should leave supporters of the Trump administration scratching their heads.
While it is hard to tell what exactly is going on inside federal agencies whether the government is open or not, we do know that the FDA, the agency charged with ensuring the safety of critical consumer products such as medicine, cosmetics, and, of course, food, is considering major regulatory actions against products that not only aren’t hurting anyone, but allow consumers to reduce their risk of having life-threatening illnesses.
The FDA’s crusade against e-cigarettes and other reduced-risk nicotine products is the one grabbing the most attention. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb last Friday just trial-ballooned the prospect of completely banning e-cigarettes and vaping products. FDA also appears to be considering a regulation on using dairy terms in the name of plant-based products.
That’s right, the FDA is positioning itself to go after almond milk and vegan cheese.
The current impasse over funding the government is entirely about immigration and border security, but this seems like as good a time as any to ask why we’re funding what can only be described as radical nanny-statism at the FDA. Vaping and vegan products aren’t likely to find a lot of sympathizers outside of the people who actually consume them. But perception and popularity generally do not breed good policy, which is a reason why we supposedly have “independent” regulatory agencies like the FDA.
The idea that companies using dairy terms in their plant-based product names constitutes a crisis deserving FDA attention is ridiculous on its face and most certainly does not justify a massive breach of these companies’ First Amendment rights. What’s more likely happening here is a giveaway to the dairy industry in terms of a regulatory boot on the neck of their competitors — as if the billions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies for dairy producers are not enough. There are already regulations forcing companies to clearly list the ingredients of their food products.
If these are insufficient to protect people from getting confused by almond milk, then that’s a problem for the Department of Education, not the FDA.
Despite the obvious public health crisis presented by conventional cigarette use, there is no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes and vaping products constitute any sort of major threat. Nicotine is undeniably addictive, however it is not known to cause cancer. Getting products to market that will safely deliver nicotine to the millions of people who struggle to quit smoking or choose not to will save countless lives, not endanger them. Other countries realize the amazing benefits offered by reduced-risk nicotine products, not emergencies. According to Cancer Research UK, “Switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes substantially reduces a major health risk.”
Cancer Research UK further adds that no significant evidence exists that the chemicals in the vapor emitted from these products present any danger: Some studies have found chemicals in e-cigarette vapour that are known to cause health problems. But these studies have tended to use artificial conditions, and when good quality e-cigarettes are used normally (e.g. not overheated), there are far fewer harmful chemicals present in the vapour than in tobacco smoke. If the e-liquid is being overheated it tends to produce an acrid, unpleasant taste — you’ll know if this happens.
Restricting e-cigarette and vaping products because they might be dangerous when misused is a terrible precedent to set in terms of consumer product safety. It’s hard to imagine a product that isn’t potentially dangerous when misused.
When the government inevitably opens back up, most Americans will likely be relieved to have government watchdogs back on their normal beat. However, the overzealous agenda of the current FDA begs the question: What good is a watchdog that gets distracted and bites innocent people?