The Food and Drug Administration, a federal regulatory agency perpetually in search of new products to regulate and new jurisdiction to conquer, last June received the gift it had coveted for decades. On June 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act,” which gave the FDA legal power to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products including, most importantly, cigarettes.
The regulators at FDA have wasted no time flexing their new regulatory muscles. Their first target to vaporize? Why, clove cigarettes, of course. I’d not even heard of clove cigarettes until someone I know was smoking one outside a club at which I was attending an event in New Orleans last summer. I was sitting there enjoying a good cigar, and this friend of mine was smoking what appeared to be a cigarette, but whose smoke smelled like no cigarette I’d ever been exposed to. With my curiosity thus piqued, I asked what the heck kind of cigarette was he puffing. “Clove” was his reply.
Clove cigarettes apparently are widely smoked in Indonesia, but the U.S. market for the pungent smokes is apparently small (but dedicated) – less than one-tenth of one percent of our country’s cigarette consumption. However, if someone enjoys the taste of burning cloves and wants to smoke a cigarette containing the substance, what the heck — it’s fine with me. Well, it’s apparently not fine with the freedom-loving folks at the FDA, and they recently banned clove cigarettes. The agency’s justification for this action (other than, “because it can”) was because the fragrant smoke emanating from clove cigarettes makes them attractive to children.
Most kids I know wouldn’t know a clove from a dill pickle, and I’ve never heard of teenage gangs waging turf wars over these pungent cigarettes. Notwithstanding this, the regulators at America’s preeminent Nanny State agency apparently have studied the matter and concluded — despite a 2006 University of Minnesota survey showing a significant drop in the number of high schoolers who had smoked a clove cigarette — that allowing a small number of adult, clove-cigarette aficionados to enjoy their product of choice presents such an overwhelming danger to children, that the “vice” has to be outlawed completely.
Then again, maybe it’s not about the profound “danger” of clove cigarettes at all. Maybe it’s simply the first move by the FDA to test its new-found power over “flavored” cigarettes as a launching pad to bigger things. Already, based on a challenge to the FDA by the manufacturer of cigars containing cloves, the agency is arguing in federal court that it can ban cigars containing cloves, just the same as it can ban cigarettes containing the substance because of the alleged allure for young people. This clearly is an agency flexing its regulatory muscles, and is on the prowl for new and bigger game to bag. All tobacco smokers better watch out.