The Biden administration will consider forcing cigarette makers to reduce the nicotine in their cigarettes to levels that aren’t addicting – at the same time more than half of U.S. states have legalized marijuana in some form.
The administration already was considering banning menthol flavoring in cigarettes, but while they’ve been chewing over that rule, they’ve discussed going even further with the possible nicotine limits, according to the Wall Street Journal.
That means it could soon be forbidden to take a drag off a full-strength cigarette during your lunch break – but it’s already perfectly legal to puff away on pot in 17 states and Washington DC. (When counting ‘medicinal’ use, it’s legal in 34 states.)
The possible move that could snuff out real cigarettes comes perhaps ironically as toked-up Americans celebrate ‘420 day’ – a meme-fueled reference to smoking marijuana that originally, according to lore, was the time of day a group of teenagers in 1970s California met to smoke pot each day: 4:20 pm.
The Biden administration is considering capping nicotine levels in cigarettes in the hope of making them non-addictive to smokers
More than 90 per cent of Americans now think that marijuana should be legal in some form with almost two-thirds saying they support legalizing both medicinal and recreational use, according to a new survey
So far, 34 states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form, including recreational use, medical use and sales
A New Yorker is seen above smoking a joint in the Washington Square Park section of Manhattan on April 3. New York became the 15th state last month to legalize recreational marijuana use
Meanwhile, a half century of Gallup polls show the percentage of Americans who smoke has plummeted – 45 percent in 1954 to 15 percent in 2019.
But public opinion is shifting sharply in favor of marijuana: More than 90 percent of Americans in a recent survey responded that pot should be legal in some form – and more than two thirds support legalization for recreational and medicinal purposes.
The Pew survey, which was completed the first two weeks of April, said only 8 percent wanted to outlaw marijuana altogether.
Moving with the winds of public opinion, the Biden administration might not be taking too much risk of backlash when it comes to yanking nicotine out of cigarettes, while not standing in the way of states that are opening to marijuana, but some groups warn of the encroachment on personal freedoms when it comes to tobacco.
‘The anti-smoking movement is hardly a grassroots phenomenon: It is largely funded by taxpayers and a few major foundations with left-liberal agendas,’ said Smoker Friendly, a lobbying group associated with 800 retail stores.
And marijuana smoking isn’t without risks: According to the American Lung Association, marijuana smoke is harmful to lung health – with the burning of pot shown to contain many of the same ‘toxins’ as cigarettes.
‘Marijuana smokers tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than cigarette smokers, which leads to a greater exposure per breath to tar,’ the Lung Association says.
Still, as for the Biden administration, public officials are rapidly approaching a deadline on whether menthol cigarettes will be banned for sale, and a cap on nicotine levels could be announced at the same time.
A smoke shop in New York could be forced to carry cigs with only limited amounts of nicotine if the Biden administration goes forward with a potential rule change
Officials are also considering a ban on menthol cigarettes which is often seen as a ‘gateway’ product for younger smokers to get into the habit
Right now, the warnings on the side of cigarette boxes are federally mandated; no such warning exists on pot packaging
A decision will need to be made by April 29.
Menthol cigarettes have long been considered a gateway product for younger smokers. The 2009 Tobacco Control Act banned candy, fruit and spice flavorings in cigarettes because of their potential appeal to children, but did not deal with menthol.
The administration is now weighing whether to adjust nicotine levels at the same time as a menthol ban or introduce it as a separate policy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Although nicotine doesn’t cause cancer, it does make smoking more addictive, health experts say.
Smoking has been linked to 480,000 deaths in the US annually.
The idea behind reducing levels of nicotine would be to make the cigarettes non-addictive and perhaps encourage smokers to quit or move to other safer products.
‘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,’ Altria spokesperson George Parman told CNBC .
British American Tobacco shares closed down 2 percent on Monday
Philip Morris International shares ended the day down more than 1 percent despite not selling cigarettes in the U.S.
Shares in Altria shares closed down more than 6 percent
Stocks in tobacco plummeted on the news Monday.
Shares in Altria shares closed down more than 6 percent while British American Tobacco shares closed down 2 percent on Monday. Philip Morris International shares ended the day down more than 1 percent despite not selling cigarettes in the U.S.
‘Many consumers wrongly believe that a cigarette very low in nicotine content is lower in risk than traditional cigarettes, a misconception that poses a major hurdle in determining proposed rulemaking for low nicotine cigarettes,’ Reynolds American spokesperson Kaelan Hollon said.
A spokeswoman for Reynolds American Inc. said that the data available on nicotine reduction is inconclusive and said ‘there are better tools for improving public health’, according to the Wall Street Journal.
However, research has shown that smokers are more likely to quit cigarettes or switch to e-cigarettes or gums when nicotine is reduced, the Journal reported.
Nicotine can be reduced in cigarettes by either genetically modifying tobacco plants or removing nicotine from the tobacco leaf during manufacturing.
Menthol is a compound that is found in mint plants and has been added to cigarettes since the 1920s.