The Biden administration is considering requiring tobacco companies to reduce nicotine levels in all cigarettes sold in the United States, reports The Wall Street Journal. The nicotine-reduction policy would lower the chemical in cigarettes to nonaddictive or minimally addictive levels and aim to push smokers to quit or switch to less harmful alternatives, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, a deadline is nearing for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to decide on whether to ban menthol cigarettes. The menthol ban would aim to curb smoking initiation among young people, many of whom start with menthol cigarettes.
According to the FDA, menthol cigarettes may be harder to quit than nonmenthol cigarettes, particularly among African American smokers. More than 19.5 million people reportedly smoke menthol cigarettes.
The tobacco industry has rejected the FDA’s findings on menthol, and both policies would take years to implement and would likely face legal challenges.
On April 12, 2013, health groups filed a petition calling on the FDA to ban menthol in cigarettes. Nearly seven years later, one of the co-signers, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, the FDA unreasonably delayed issuing a final response to the citizen petition.
The FDA agreed to issue a final response to the petition by Jan. 29.
Then, a supplemental petition with additional research on the alleged harms of menthol cigarettes was submitted in January.
After the additional information was submitted, the parties agreed to extend the FDA’s deadline to issue a final response to April 29.
Recent news reports suggest the likelihood of a menthol ban in the U.S. is increasing.
Shares of tobacco giant Altria Group plunged on Monday following The Wall Street Journal report, according to CNN.
“A ban on menthol cigarettes or reduction in nicotine levels would fundamentally disrupt the U.S. cigarette market and would be credit negative for Altria as it would significantly accelerate cigarette volume decline,” said Maria Iarriccio, vice president and lead analyst for Altria at Moody’s Investor Service.
“Approximately 20 percent of Altria’s cigarette sales are menthol flavored. Also, a reduction of nicotine levels in cigarettes would be challenged by tobacco companies in courts and would take years to resolve.”
“Altria is focused on growing alternative products in the U.S., such as oral tobacco, e-vapor through its Juul investment and IQOS heated-tobacco,” Iarriccio added. “However, these alternative products contribute a small part to Altria’s existing business and will not offset the material decline in revenue should a ban be implemented.