According to the Washington Post, which quoted an unnamed source, President Joe Biden’s administration may require tobacco corporations to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes sold in the US to minimally or nonaddictive levels. The ruling might be made public as early as Tuesday.
It could take at least a year for the Food and Drug Administration to issue a proposed rule, the Post noted, and the tobacco industry might challenge it in court.
In April, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed prohibiting the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. It noted that more than 18.5 million Americans smoke menthols, roughly a third of the cigarettes sold in the US each year. An inquiry for comment was not immediately answered by the White House.
“This is the first time there’s ever been a serious discussion with a commitment from the highest levels of government to tackle tobacco in a way that is transformative,” said Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It will transform public health in the United States and literally do more to reduce cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease than any other set of actions the government could take.”
“If you don’t have high enough levels of nicotine, it seems that you don’t trigger as strong an addiction”, stated Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, the American Heart Association’s chief science officer. I’ve treated patients in the past who had struggled with heroin and nicotine addiction at various points in their lives, and one of them claimed that quitting nicotine was considerably more difficult. According to surveys, two-thirds of young smokers want to stop. Lowering nicotine levels might have a significant impact.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking-related illnesses claim the lives of over 480,000 Americans each year. It is the leading cause of preventable death in the US. The number of smokers has declined significantly in the past 15 years, but as of 2020, still about 12.5% of US adults, or 30.8 million people smoked cigarettes. According to the CDC, more than 16 million people suffer from a smoking-related illness.
According to Erika Sward, the American Lung Association’s assistant vice president of national advocacy, “this is a significant step forward for public health.” According to the FDA, lowering nicotine levels might stop more than 33 million people from starting to smoke regularly, help 5 million more people stop, and add 134 million years to people’s lives. Even with low nicotine products, not all smoking-related diseases would disappear. The low nicotine cigarettes still contain harmful products that can cause disease.
The regulations won’t happen overnight, experts say, and there’s no guarantee that it would be enacted. Next, the FDA will have to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking by May 2023 and there would be time for public comment. That process could take at least a year. Then, it is “very likely,” experts say, that the tobacco companies would then sue to keep the ruleMyers and other tobacco experts said they hope the FDA and the Biden administration will move quickly on this initiative. With tobacco, “we have seen how slow things can progress in various sectors and how many roadblocks may appear,” said Myers. “We just have to make a commitment to make sure it gets done.” So, there would still need to be a public health effort to get people to quit.