Saturday, May 23, 2009

Got a light? Ask the FDA...

It's pretty difficult for me to muster any compassion for the tobacco industry, so I welcomed the news this week that Congress has announced pending plans to regulate the manufacturing of cigarettes and other tobacco products as well as prohibit tobacco companies from marketing "light" cigarettes.

Followers of this issue will know that the marketing of light cigarettes has been under legal scrutiny since a 2006 decision that banned labels such as "low tar" and "light.” Yesterday, Washington DC's Court of Appeals upheld that ’06 ruling, but protests from Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Lorillard Tobacco, RJ Reynolds Tobacco, and Brown & Williamson Tobacco may see the issue resurface in the Supreme Court.

Over the last 50 years the percentage of adults in our country who smoke has more than halved (About 20% of the US adult population continues to smoke), smoking has been banned from most public places across the country and cigarette manufacturers have been mandated to donate money to anti-smoking campaigns and cessation aids. It’s not difficult to see the momentum behind regulating marketing and allowing the Food and Drug Administration to rule on what can truly be called ‘light.’

But there is a larger, stickier issue that has yet to be addressed as directly and it faces me each time I go to the grocery store. There are hundreds of other products that are labeled or marketed as “light” or “eco-friendly” that have minimal or no regulatory oversight. Should the government test which sour cream is better for me and stick a government label on the package?

It begs the question where does rhetoric and marketing end and regulation and consumer protection begin? Some claims are more scrutinized than others in out culture. Diet aids, over-the-counter medicines and vitamin supplements must do as they say on the label. However, no one is policing the fact that nearly every diner in New York was recently voted the best or that cereal types have been “Kid-tested, mother-approved.” What does that really mean?

As advertisements infiltrate our search engine results, blogs, movies and TV shows and daily speech, every buyer needs to...well, caveat emptor.

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