Much of the book deals with the routine business of the FDA: orange-juice seizures, a fight to restrict the sale of body tissues from foreign sources, how he responded to complaints that syringes were found in Pepsi cans, and so on. But the driving force behind Kessler's narrative is how he slowly woke up to the possibility of regulating cigarettes. "It is too easy to be swayed by the argument that tobacco is a legal product and should be treated like any other," he writes. "A product that kills people--when used as intended--is different. No one should be allowed to make a profit from that." His story is a lesson in Washington power politics--a game he played with naiveté when he started but was expert at by the end of his tenure.
To say Kessler and his team of FDA regulators "defeated" Big Tobacco is an overstatement: they were part of a broader effort that included trial lawyers, consumer groups, and crusading journalists, and the industry hasn't exactly gone away. But they were instrumental in forcing tobacco companies to admit that nicotine is addictive and cigarettes cause cancer, and in bringing about a sea change in the industry's legal and popular standing. Kessler now believes in regulation so tight it will strangle Big Tobacco forever: "If our goal is to halt this manmade epidemic," he writes, "the tobacco industry, as currently configured, needs to be dismantled." A Question of Intent is a well-told muckraker. It unfolds deliberately, like a good detective story. Admirers of Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action, especially those with a taste for public policy, won't be disappointed. --John J. Miller