Biden administration proposes new policy on nicotine in cigarettes 

by mcardinal

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


The Biden administration is planning to develop a proposal that would require tobacco companies to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes sold in the U.S. according to a memo released Tuesday. The rule would reduce nicotine levels to minimal or non-addictive levels in an effort to reduce smoking-related deaths.

According to the CDC, tobacco use is currently the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking causes over 480,000 deaths per year, which amounts to 1 out of every 5 deaths in the United States. Secondhand smoke exposure kills thousands of adults and children each year as well.  

The proposed rule was published in the Biden administration’s spring “unified agenda.” The stated goal of the proposal is to implement “a tobacco product standard that would establish a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes and certain finished tobacco products.”

Nicotine is known to be highly addictive, and cigarettes repeatedly expose users to high levels of the drug as well as other dangerous toxins. According to the publication, the FDA is taking this action “to reduce addictiveness to certain tobacco products, thus giving addicted users a greater ability to quit,” and “benefit the population as a whole while also advancing health equity by addressing disparities associated with cigarette smoking, dependence, and cessation.”

This is not the first time that the government has proposed legislation to limit the effects of tobacco.

In the 1990s the FDA sought to lower nicotine levels in an effort to prevent cigarettes from getting into the hands of minors. A Supreme Court ruling originally found that the FDA did not have the authority to make such demands. This decision was later challenged and changed by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which effectively gave the FDA the ability to regulate all tobacco products.

The Trump administration also unveiled plans in 2017 to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes, but these plans were halted just two years later.  

Implementing the policy would be a lengthy process. It could take up to a year for the FDA to make a formal proposal, which then must be opened for public comment before a final decision can be made.

Some critics believe the effort is doomed for failure due to the scope of the proposal. Guy Bentley, director of consumer freedom at the Reason Foundation told The Washington Post, “In practical terms, the proposal would ban most cigarettes currently sold in America,” adding, “combined with the Biden administration’s proposed ban on menthol cigarettes, this would amount to an effort similar to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s.” 

Nicotine and smoking have long been a target of government oversight due to the overall negative effects it has on individual health and the medical industry.

Nicotine can impair brain development and lead to psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairments, especially for those who start using the drug during adolescence. Nicotine has also proven to contribute to high blood pressure, tremors, sleep disturbances, breathing problems, decreased endurance, appetite suppression, erectile dysfunction, and increased respiratory secretions. 

According to the most recent data, 30.8 million American adults regularly smoke cigarettes and more than 16 million Americans live with a disease that can be directly attributed to smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop heart disease and lung cancer, and also have an increased risk for stroke. It has also been proven to affect fertility and bone health, lead to tooth loss, reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, and cause type 2 diabetes.