Current FDA head Scott Gottleib has taken a significant stand against cigarette companies. The FDA has proposed reducing levels of nicotine, the addictive agent in tobacco products, to negligible, non-addictive levels.
Gottlieb said in a statement:
Cigarettes are the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all its long-term users.
#FDA has taken a pivotal step today that could ultimately bring us closer to our vision of a world where combustible cigarettes would no longer create or sustain addiction. My statement on these important efforts: https://t.co/4kPZMsh9Tx pic.twitter.com/IJSZC81LpJ— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) March 15, 2018
Gottlieb said the intent was to lower U.S. smoking rates from 15% to 1.4%, so tobacco companies are likely to fight the new regulations. Previous attempts to curb smoking have been largely ineffective, with still nearly half a million deaths per year.
Today’s milestone places us squarely on the road toward achieving one of the biggest public health victories in modern history. If implemented, lowering nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or nonaddictive levels could save millions of lives: https://t.co/4kPZMsh9Tx pic.twitter.com/WLNSB3Bguu— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) March 15, 2018
Desmond Jenson, an attorney at the Public Law Health Center, said:
Cigarettes have no place in society any longer. If cigarettes were invented today, no country in the world would allow them to be sold.
To be clear, this isn't an immediate change but an "advanced notice of proposed rulemaking," which means that any regulation would take time.
On the heels of the announcement, the New England Journal of Medicine put out a public health report on the possible effects of the nicotine reduction. With today's nicotine levels and anti-smoking programs, they projected that in 2100, 8% of adults would use tobacco products. With the new regulation limiting nicotine, they projected 2% on the same timeline.
The tobacco industry has a history of resisting regulation. In 2011, a proposal to package cigarettes with images of cancerous lungs was defeated in court. In 2006, a U.S. District Court found that cigarette companies had enjoyed "a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public" about the health risks of smoking.
Anti-smoking advocates immediately hailed the effort as long overdue:
No addiction means less users, and less nuisance for non-smokers. Thank you Sir, for taking this important step!— Clean Air Nederland (@CleanAirNld) March 17, 2018
Both parents died from smoking cigarettes. What did it take so long?— Terry Whiting (@TerryWhitingOR) March 16, 2018
Smokers and skeptics trotted out a very specific rebuttal:
Just a scam to get people to buy more cigarettes. Less nicotine means people buy more cigarettes to get the effect they need.— Mill A (@MillAADawg) March 16, 2018
Cigarette industry will be overjoyed, because people will have to smoke way more to get the same effect. Or, vape.— Jerry Rikshaw (@JRikshaw) March 16, 2018
The intent of the proposed regulations is to dissuade people from becoming smokes, rather than altering smokers' habits.