The Food and Drug Administration plans to explore regulating the level of nicotine in conventional cigarettes, a radical step that would reshape the $130 billion American tobacco industry and potentially encourage millions of people quit smoking.
The move, announced Friday, would represent one of the most sweeping federal efforts to reduce smoking since Congress required cigarette packages to carry health warnings in 1965.
Tobaccco stocks plunged after the announcement, which came just hours after the failure of Republicans’ effort in Congress to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act. The FDA’s move is likely to set off a lobbying fight in Washington over the proposal.
“The overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes — the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users,” Gottlieb said in a statement. “Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use.”
He called nicotine both the “problem” and “ultimately, the solution.” Along with nicotine reduction, the FDA plans to ease the path of entry for less-harmful nicotine delivery systems.
While reducing nicotine is bad news for the cigarette business, the impact could be tempered for companies like Philip Morris International and Altria Group, which have been putting more emphasis on innovations they say have fewer health risks. Philip Morris has spent over $3 billion on developing its reduced-risk portfolio.