If You Thought Nonalcoholic Beer Was a Great Idea, You'll Love This


Back in the mid-1990s, when the FDA was pretending it already had the authority to regulate tobacco products that Congress is currently thinking about giving it, the agency considered a proposal to stop people from smoking by forcing tobacco companies to gradually reduce the amount of nicotine in their cigarettess. When the level became too low to initiate and maintain addiction, it was suggested, no one would want to smoke anymore. There were a few problems with this plan, not least of which was that it would make cigarettes more dangerous by exposing smokers to higher levels of toxins and carcinogens for the same dose of nicotine.

Now David Adams, a former FDA official who proudly takes credit for the nicotine reduction plan, has a new idea. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Adams says the government should force tobacco companies to make two kinds of cigarettes: regular, for smokers 21 or older, and "non-addictive," for anyone younger than that. "Better yet," he writes, "sales of addictive cigarettes could be restricted to individuals born 19 or more years before the two-cigarette strategy was put into effect. Under this approach, 18-year-olds who start smoking non-addictive cigarettes would be prohibited from switching to addictive cigarettes even after they turned 21." In other words, instead of gradually introducing nicotine-free cigarettes, as in Adams' original nicotine reduction plan, he wants to introduce them right away and gradually increase the number of people forced to smoke them.

I have a different idea: Why not have various kinds of cigarettes for adults and no cigarettes at all for minors? Wait, that rule already exists in every state. Perhaps Adams thinks it should be enforced more vigorously, in which case he may be right. Or perhaps he thinks the cigarette purchase age should be raised to 21, in which case he should explain why that cutoff is more appropriate than 18, which is considered old enough to vote, marry, live independently, sign contracts, own firearms, and enlist in the armed forces. But it is hard to see how the task of enforcing age restrictions would be made easier by extending the prohibition to people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, permitting them to buy only the sort of cigarettes that Adams admits no one would want to smoke.