As President Joe Biden attempts to salvage his abysmal approval numbers ahead of the midterms, his hand-picked FDA commissioner is not doing him any favors. After a series of blunders regarding the recent baby food shortage and now an anti-science, strict prohibition stance on nicotine products, the FDA is backpedaling in an attempt to maintain what is left of its credibility.
The latest move in this clean-up attempt came when the FDA announced the Reagan-Udall Foundation is being brought in to review key offices in the food and tobacco departments. While technically independent, Congress created this organization to “advance the mission of the FDA,” and has often shared close ties to higher-ups at the agency. With Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, it is unlikely the group will hold the Biden-led FDA accountable for its many mistakes and missteps.
If the FDA hopes to return to its mission, and avoid potential investigations under a Republican Congress in 2023, it should refocus on science-based public health over media games to boost public perception.
In September of last year, the FDA received a whistleblower complaint regarding contamination in a baby formula plant warranting an investigation and potential recall. It took the agency nearly four months just to request an interview with the whistleblower, and once the recall was established, the FDA had few plans to supplement the shortage. Considering 80 percent of all baby formula inventory is supported by only two companies, one of which was subjected to the recall, the shortage was inevitable yet the agency was somehow caught off guard and babies across the country were put in a life or death situation.
Instead of focusing on fixing the baby formula crisis that continues to be a problem, the FDA instead rolled out a series of tobacco-related decisions, not backed by science, to earn a quick win that would shift media headlines.
In June, the FDA announced the reduction of nicotine levels in cigarettes across the board in an effort to reduce the impact of smoking. However, this decision departs from both science and common sense. While reducing nicotine levels can make a single cigarette less addictive, many smokers will simply smoke more to satisfy their cravings. More cigarettes mean those who smoke will be inhaling more harmful chemicals and carcinogens, which are ultimately responsible for the bulk of related health issues.
To make matters worse, the FDA paired this decision with the denial of Juul’s premarket tobacco product application (PMTA), effectively removing the product from the market. Yet again, the agency’s unfounded decision is counterintuitive to the protection of public health. Considering the negative impact of combustible cigarettes, many vaping products like Juul provide a less harmful alternative that can offer smokers their nicotine fix without many of the harmful byproducts.
Those two actions have driven many Americans from across the political spectrum to question the FDA’s motives, and the agency has since issued an administrative stay on their decision after they said the unique circumstances of Juul’s application “warrant additional review.”
If the FDA’s decision was not based on a full and thorough review of the application and available evidence, it begs the question: Why did the agency announce its decision in the first place?
The FDA’s crackdown on nicotine products also doesn’t follow the Left’s conventional wisdom on other addictive drugs. Biden’s response to staggering rates of drug overdoses has been to invest in harm reduction programs, including $30 million in the pandemic relief package for initiatives like clean needle exchanges and crack pipes.
The hypocrisy is astounding. While the Biden administration has no problem advancing harm reduction strategies for opioid and crack addicts, it is unclear why the FDA continues to peddle total bans as a solution to smoking.
Smokers looking to quit need a safer alternative during their transition. The agency cannot earn back its credibility while it actively reverses its own decisions and contradicts the administration’s efforts elsewhere. An external review may help get the house in order, but it’s up to Commissioner Robert Califf and those at the FDA to follow the science and adopt harm reduction to protect public health.