The Biden administration wants to cap the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes — and could announce its plan to do so later Tuesday, reports said.
The Food and Drug Administration has backed the idea of cutting nicotine levels in an effort to stem addiction and reduce smoking-related deaths for several years.
But the administration would still have to propose a law, take public comment and withstand expected backlash and potential lawsuits from cigarette makers, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the anticipated policy.
Getting a federal law passed to force tobacco companies to slash the nicotine content to “minimally or nonaddictive levels” could still be a longshot, according to the Washington Post.
However, the initiative would be “worth the wait,” said Mitch Zeller, retired director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.
“The most important, game-changing policies take a long time, but it is worth the wait because, at the end of the day, the only cigarettes that will be available won’t be capable of addicting future generations of kids,” Zeller told the Washington Post.
One critic compared the idea to alcohol prohibition, especially when combined with the FDA seeking a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes.
“In practical terms, the proposal would ban most cigarettes currently sold in America,” Guy Bentley, director of consumer freedom at the libertarian Reason Foundation, told the newspaper.
The expected announcement would be part of the Biden administration’s “Cancer Moonshot Initiative,” which set a goal of reducing the cancer death rate by half over the next 50 years, the Journal reported.
While nicotine doesn’t cause cancer, it hooks users, and smoking remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some 480,000 deaths a year in the US are blamed on cigarette smoking, with 13.7% of the adult population listed as smokers as of 2018, the CDC reported.
A rule to reduce nicotine levels would mean 5 million more people quit smoking in a year, the New England Journal of Medicine estimates.
The FDA has backed slashing nicotine content for several years, with former commissioner Scott Gottlieb taking the first steps toward a new rule during the Trump administration. But that effort stalled when Gottlieb left in 2019, according to the Washington Post.
The White House declined comment on the expected announcement on Tuesday.
“I’m not going to comment on any leaked information. I have no final decision to preview at this time,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a briefing. “But what I can say is one of the president’s key unity agenda items is ending cancer as we know it, including by reigniting the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.”