The Biden administration is weighing requiring tobacco companies to lower the level of nicotine in cigarettes so they are no longer addictive, according to a report.
The issue is being considered as administration officials approach an end-of-the-month deadline whether it will ban menthol cigarettes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
The Food and Drug Administration must respond by April 29 to a petition to ban menthol cigarettes by disclosing whether it is pursuing such a policy.
The administration is weighing three options – banning menthol, reducing nicotine levels or both, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.
Reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to low addictive levels would conceivably allow millions of smokers to either quit or switch to less harmful alternatives, like nicotine gums, lozenges or e cigarettes, the report said.
The aim of the menthol ban is to help young people not start smoking because many begin with menthols.
The report said either policy would take years to put in place and would face a mountain of legal challenges. Scott Gottlieb, an FDA commissioner under the Trump administration, proposed a reduction in nicotine in 2017, but it was abandoned after he left the agency in 2019.
Nicotine doesn’t cause cancer, heart or lung diseases, the FDA said, but it is addictive and hooks people on cigarettes.
Smoking is linked to 480,000 deaths each year in the US.
“Any action that the FDA takes must be based on science and evidence and must consider the real-world consequences of such actions, including the growth of an illicit market and the impact on hundreds of thousands of jobs from the farm to local stores across the country,” a spokesman for Altria Group, which makes Marlboro, told the Wall Street Journal.
A spokeswoman for Reynolds American Inc., the maker of Camel and Newport cigarettes, said the scientific case for reducing nicotine is inconclusive and added that there are “better tools for improving public health.”
The White House and the FDA did not respond to requests for comment from the Wall Street Journal.