FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120 (2000)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 98-1152. Argued December 1, 1999—Decided March 21, 2000

The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA or Act), 21 U. S. C. 301 et seq., grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as the designee of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), the authority to regulate, among other items, "drugs" and "devices," 321(g)-(h), 393. In 1996, the FDA asserted jurisdiction to regulate tobacco products, concluding that, under the FDCA, nicotine is a "drug" and cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are "devices" that deliver nicotine to the body. Pursuant to this authority, the FDA promulgated regulations governing tobacco products' promotion, labeling, and accessibility to children and adolescents. The FDA found that tobacco use is the Nation's leading cause of premature death, resulting in more than 400,000 deaths annually, and that most adult smokers begin when they are minors. The regulations therefore aim to reduce tobacco use by minors so as to substantially reduce the prevalence of addiction in future generations, and thus the incidence of tobacco-related death and disease. Respondents, a group of tobacco manufacturers, retailers, and advertisers, filed this suit challenging the FDA's regulations. They moved for summary judgment on the ground, inter alia, that the FDA lacked jurisdiction to regulate tobacco products as customarily marketed, that is, without manufacturer claims of therapeutic benefit. The District Court upheld the FDA's authority, but the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that Congress has not granted the FDA jurisdiction to regulate tobacco products. The court concluded that construing the FDCA to include tobacco products would lead to several internal inconsistencies in the Act. It also found that evidence external to the FDCA—that the FDA consistently stated before 1995 that it lacked jurisdiction over tobacco, that Congress has enacted several tobacco-specific statutes fully cognizant of the FDA's position, and that Congress has considered and rejected many bills that would have given the agency such authority—confirms this conclusion.

Held: Reading the FDCA as a whole, as well as in conjunction with Congress' subsequent tobacco-specific legislation, it is plain that Congress has not given the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products as customarily marketed. Pp. 131-161.

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