The Biden administration is moving forward on a plan to mandate the elimination of nearly all nicotine in cigarettes, a policy that would upend the $95 billion U.S. cigarette industry and, health officials say, prompt millions of people to quit smoking.
The plan, unveiled Tuesday as part of the administration’s agenda of regulatory actions, likely wouldn’t take effect for several years. The Food and Drug Administration plans to publish a proposed rule in May 2023, though the agency cautioned that date could change. Then the agency would invite public comments before publishing a final rule. Tobacco companies could then sue, which could further delay the policy’s implementation.
“Nicotine is powerfully addictive,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement Tuesday. “Lowering nicotine levels to minimally addictive or non-addictive levels would decrease the likelihood that future generations of young people become addicted to cigarettes and help more currently addicted smokers to quit.”
The move would be the biggest step by the U.S. government to curb smoking since a landmark legal settlement in 1998, when tobacco companies agreed to pay more than $200 billion to help states pay for healthcare. As part of the settlement, the companies also agreed to various marketing restrictions, including a ban on free product samples and advertising on billboards.
The cigarette smoking rate has been declining in the U.S. for decades, though it rose slightly in 2020 when the pandemic hit. About 12.5% of adults in the U.S., or 30.8 million people, were cigarette smokers in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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