2017 began with a tongue-twisting proposal: On Jan. 23, the FDA announced a potential rule that would severely limit NNN—short for N-nitrosonornicotine, a naturally occurring form of nicotine—in all smokeless products. If passed, moist-smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco, snus and dry snuff could not contain more than 1 microgram of NNN per gram of a finished product.

The problem, according to smokeless manufacturers, is that because NNN occurs naturally due to a number of factors (such as weather), snus is the only product that can achieve a 1-microgram-per-gram level. For all other products, the lowest level would be 4 micrograms per gram. Under the proposal, products that do not (or cannot) get to the 1-microgram limit would have to be taken off the market.

“It’s as close to absolute zero as the FDA can possibly get,” Minneapolis-based NATO Executive Director Tom Briant said of the proposed rule. “The FDA cannot outright ban any category of tobacco products, but this standard may be so difficult to reach that they effectively ban smokeless.”