Administration May Force Nicotine Reduction in Cigarettes

April 20, 2021

The Biden administration is considering two moves that would affect tobacco companies and American smokers, The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

First, the administration may require tobacco companies to lower nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, the WSJ reported. Nicotine doesn’t cause cancer, but it’s addictive and keeps people smoking.

Second, the Food and Drug Administration must reply by April 29 to a citizens’ petition to ban menthol cigarettes. The FDA must reveal whether it plans to take such action itself, the WSJ reported. Many young people start smoking with menthol cigarettes.

The Biden administration would take one of these actions or both of them, the WSJ said. The White House and the FDA didn’t respond to the WSJ’s request for comment.

During the Trump administration, then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb moved to reduce nicotine and ban menthols but the initiatives were dropped after he left the agency in 2019.

The FDA has considered forcing tobacco companies to lower nicotine levels for years, saying it could prevent 8 million deaths by the end of the century.

“Cigarette smoking causes more deaths each year than AIDS, alcohol, illegal drug use, homicide, suicide, and motor vehicle crashes combined, and for adults 35 years of age and older, it is the primary cause each year of 163,700 deaths from cancer; 160,600 deaths from cardiovascular and metabolic diseases; and 113,100 deaths from pulmonary diseases,” the FDA said in a 2020 paper about lowering nicotine levels.

On Monday, tobacco stocks dropped after the news was reported.

Altria, which owns several of the most popular cigarette brands, told CNBC that “Any action that the FDA takes must be based on science and evidence and must consider the real-world consequences of such actions, including the growth of an illicit market and the impact on hundreds of thousands of jobs from the farm to local stores across the country.”

“Many consumers wrongly believe that a cigarette very low in nicotine content is lower in risk than traditional cigarettes, a misconception that poses a major hurdle in determining proposed rulemaking for low nicotine cigarettes,” Reynolds American spokesperson Kaelan Hollon told CNBC.

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