The Biden administration intends to pursue a policy requiring tobacco companies to reduce the nicotine in all cigarettes sold in the U.S. to minimally or nonaddictive levels, reports The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter. The policy could be announced as early as this week.
Health advocates have long pushed for lower nicotine levels, arguing that it would prevent future generations from becoming addicted to cigarettes, and prompt current smokers to quit. In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act authorized the Food and Drug Administration to mandate such a change—with the stipulation that the policy be based on scientific evidence.
Research funded by the FDA and National Institutes of Health has shown that when nicotine was nearly eliminated in cigarettes, smokers were more likely to quit or seek their nicotine fix from less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes or gum compared with smokers who continued using cigarettes with normal nicotine levels.
According to estimates published in the New England Journal of Medicine, mandating a reduction of nicotine levels in cigarettes to very low levels would prompt an additional 5 million adult smokers to quit within a year of implementation.
The tobacco industry has cautioned that a reduced-nicotine mandate will lead people to smoke more, rather than less, because smokers would need a larger number of cigarettes to satisfy their nicotine cravings. This, in turn, would cause them to inhale more of the cancer-causing substances generated by combustion. Critics have also warned that requiring low-nicotine cigarettes would boost the illicit tobacco market.
If the low-nicotine policy is indeed announced this week, it will still take several years to come into force. The FDA first must publish a proposed rule, then invite public comments before publishing a final rule. Tobacco companies could then challenge the rule in court, which could further delay the policy’s implementation.