Biden Administration Considers Lowering Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

As nicotine discussions occur, FDA also approaches deadline to respond to menthol petition
Photograph: Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is weighing two policies that could change the landscape of U.S. tobacco sales.  

The administration is considering requiring tobacco companies to reduce nicotine levels to non-addictive levels in all cigarettes sold in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. At the same time, a deadline is nearing for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide on whether to ban menthol cigarettes.

The nicotine-reduction policy would lower the chemical in cigarettes to nonaddictive or minimally addictive levels and aim to push smokers to quit or switch to less harmful alternatives, the newspaper said. The FDA declined to comment on the potential nicotine regulation as of Monday afternoon. 

While discussions on nicotine level changes are ongoing, the FDA is also required to respond by the end of the month to a citizens petition to ban menthol cigarettes. The menthol ban would aim to curb smoking initiation among young people, many of whom start with menthol cigarettes, the Journal reported.

On April 12, 2013, the Public Health Law Center and 18 co-signers filed a petition calling on the FDA to ban menthol in cigarettes. Nearly seven years later, one of the co-signers, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, the FDA unreasonably delayed issuing a final response to the citizen petition. The FDA agreed to issue a final response to the petition by Jan. 29, the agency said.

Then, a supplemental petition with additional research on the alleged harms of menthol cigarettes was submitted in January. (The document can be found on the Public Health Law Center’s website.) After the additional information was submitted, the parties agreed to extend the FDA’s deadline to issue a final response to April 29.

This will provide FDA with additional time to fully consider the new information, to ensure that the response takes into account all relevant information, to engage with new leadership, and to chart a path forward,” an FDA spokesperson told CSP.

When it comes to menthol, research suggests menthol cigarettes may be harder to quit than nonmenthol cigarettes, particularly among African American smokers, according to the FDA. More than 19.5 million people smoke menthol cigarettes, the agency’s website said.

The tobacco industry has rejected the FDA’s findings on menthol, the Journal said, and both policies would take years to implement and would likely face legal challenges. 

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