Biden administration proposes rule to cut nicotine in cigarettes

An expected policy would lower nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or nonaddictive levels. Photo by underworld/Shutterstock

The Biden administration on Tuesday proposed a new rule that would require tobacco companies to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes in an effort to cut back on addiction and smoking-related deaths in the United States.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs published the proposed rule as part of a compilation of planned federal regulatory actions released twice a year, The Washington Post reported.

According to information posted on the agency’s website, “this proposed ruled is a tobacco product standard that would establish a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes and certain finished tobacco products. Because tobacco-related harms primarily result from addiction to products that repeatedly expose users to toxins, FDA would take this action to reduce addictiveness to certain tobacco products, thus giving addicted users a greater ability to quit.”

The policy, which would lower nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels, would dovetail with a major goal of the White House — to cut cancer deaths. As part of the retooled cancer moonshot announced in February, President Joe Biden promised to cut cancer death rates by 50% over the next quarter century.

About 480,000 Americans die of smoking-related causes each year, and tobacco use remains the top cause of preventable death in the United States.

Only one other country, New Zealand, has similar regulations in place, The New York Times reported.

Announcing the new rule would be the first step in a lengthy process, the Post reported. It could take at least a year for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco products, to actually issue a proposed rule. After that, the FDA would have to sift through public comments before issuing a final rule.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the proposal posted online doesn’t indicate a policy decision has been made.

Any opposition could delay or derail the effort — especially if the regulation is not completed before Biden left office. The tobacco industry, which is sure to fight the new measure, could also legally challenge any final regulation.

Pat Folan directs the Northwell Center for Tobacco Control in Lake Success, N.Y. She believes that “this measure will have its most significant impact on young people trying cigarettes for the first time. With less nicotine, teens may not become addicted so quickly.”

On the other hand, the move to lower nicotine levels could backfire among older smokers, Folan said. They may simply up their intake by consuming more cigarettes per day.

Harold Wimmer, CEO and president of the American Lung Association, said he was pleased to hear of the proposal.

“Reducing nicotine to non-addictive levels in cigarettes is an important step forward for public health, and we urge FDA to extend this proposal to include all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes,” he said in a statement emailed to UPI.

“Reducing the nicotine levels in cigarettes can dramatically reduce the number of young people who become addicted when they are only experimenting, as well as increase quit attempts and cessation. The Lung Association looks forward to seeing the proposed rule and providing our comments to FDA on this important proposal.”

Nicotine, a chemical that occurs naturally in the tobacco plant, does not cause cancer. But its highly addictive properties make it hard for people to quit using cigarettes, whose smoke contains harmful ingredients that can cause lung cancer and heart disease.

An FDA-funded study, published in 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes could save more than 8 million lives by the end of the century.

HealthDay News contributed to this report.