The FDA's War on Nicotine Will Encourage Americans To Smoke More Cigarettes

America's public health officials continue to undermine public health.


In a misguided attempt to get Americans to stop smoking, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reportedly considering new regulations that would likely force smokers to light up more cigarettes in order to get their hit of nicotine.

The Biden administration is considering requiring cigarette manufacturers to decrease the amount of nicotine in cigarettes as part of a series of new rules that could be rolled out in the coming months, The Wall Street Journal reports. Ostensibly, this is meant to make cigarettes less addictive, thus reducing the number of people who become addicted to them in the first place in the future.

Of course, that ignores the massive consequences that the proposed rules could have for the health and finances of anyone currently nursing a nicotine addiction. The FDA would be effectively telling smokers that they have to buy many more cigarettes—and inhale much more cancer-causing tar—to get their fix. (Maybe that would be enough to make some smokers switch to vaping, if only the FDA wasn't determined to make that alternative as expensive and unattractive as possible too.)

"Cutting the nicotine yield might have the unintended consequence of smokers taking more puffs, inhaling more deeply, and holding the smoke in longer," writes Jeffrey Singer, an Arizona-based physician and senior fellow at the Cato Institute. "While nicotine is addictive, the tars in tobacco smoke are what do all of the damage to health. Reducing nicotine content might paradoxically make smoking more dangerous." (Disclosure: Singer is a financial supporter of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.)

The FDA hasn't even finished cleaning the blood off its hands from the botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the inept public health bureaucracy is already plotting new ways to kill Americans.

The FDA says that implementing the low-nicotine requirement would cause about 5 million Americans to quit smoking. But there are roughly 34 million smokers in America right now. What, exactly, does the FDA expect the rest of them to do?

Like in other situations where an addictive substance has been effectively outlawed, some of the consequences are easy to conceive. Consider what would happen if the government mandated that the alcohol content of legally sold drinks could not exceed 1 percent, says Guy Bentley, the director of consumer freedom research at Reason Foundation.

"Some drinkers would likely quit liquor altogether or switch to an alternative alcoholic beverage," Bentley notes. "But it would be naive to assume that a large portion of them wouldn't seek out their favored booze through illegal channels."

In fact, there's a convenient real-world example of exactly how this would play out. I mean, an example in addition to America's own experience with alcohol Prohibition and the failed (and finally, maybe, coming to an end) War on Drugs.

In 2004, the tiny nation of Bhutan banned the sale and consumption of tobacco products. The ban triggered the creation of a robust black market for cigarettes, and by 2017 Bhutan had the highest smoking rate of any country in Asia.

For that matter, the FDA could just look at places like New York City, where cigarettes are still legal but astronomical taxes on tobacco products have stimulated a significant black market for "loosies." Enforcing what would effectively be a national ban on cigarettes containing more than a trace amount of nicotine would require treating otherwise law-abiding Americans like criminals—and it would lead to more tragic outcomes like the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, who was suffocated to death by a New York City cop after being caught with untaxed cigarettes.

It's tempting to view this whole proposed mess as another example of the Biden administration's propensity to expand regulatory control over Americans' lives even in circumstances where the benefits of such regulations are difficult to identify—or wholly nonexistent.

But the idea of limiting the amount of nicotine in cigarettes actually originated, the Journal notes, during the tenure of Scott Gottlieb, the first FDA commissioner of the Trump administration. It seems that changing the occupant of the White House won't stop the FDA from pursuing counterproductive, nanny state policies. Maybe we should just abolish the FDA instead.

NEXT: Blue States Reopen Their Economies but Double Down on Mask Mandates

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  1. Had to blame trump somehow.

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  2. In a misguided attempt to get Americans to stop smoking…..

    It’s not rehabilitation, it’s punishment. It’s got nothing to do with the public health, it’s simply sadism for the sake of sadism. They hate your fucking guts and wish you were dead.

    1. Everyone hates niccers.

  3. Fuck Scott Gottlieb. That guy is just full of shitty ideas.

    Maybe now that it’s near impossible to introduce a new vaping product the big tobacco companies are good with this as smokers will now likely switch to their vaping products, or black market Mexican imports or something.

    1. Not to defend Gottlieb, but this wasn’t exactly his idea. He also wanted to couple this to (slightly) less onerous regulation in the vaping space.

      About two months after Dr. Gottlieb took over as commissioner, the FDA announced it wanted tobacco companies to make all cigarettes with such low levels of nicotine that they are no longer addictive. It plans to start the process by the end of the year.

      Lowering nicotine in cigarettes has been a subject of discussion inside the FDA since the 1990s, according to current and former agency officials. It can be done in different ways, such as genetically modifying tobacco plants or stripping nicotine from the leaf in the manufacturing process. In 2009 the Tobacco Control Act authorized the FDA to mandate such a change—with the stipulation that the policy be based on scientific evidence, a caveat that slowed the process for years.

      “If it works, it will save more lives than anything else the FDA could do,” said Robert Califf, an Obama nominee who took the helm of the FDA in 2016.

      1. They dont give a damn about saving lives.

        All this medical and health hand wringing is about the Hindenberg failure called Obama Care.

        Theyve wrecked the medical and insurance worlds and are desperate to reduce costs

    2. There’s always the “little cigar loophole”. Go long Swisher Sweets.

  4. Stick a patch on, light one up, then chew some gum after.

    Or be a libertarian and just get right.

    1. Skip the Middleman and just smoke the patch- it has fewer harmful chemicals. Might get a glue buzz!

  5. The last time I heard the argument that government regulations of a drug were good was when Reason stated that legalizing drugs would make them safer by allowing their strength to be regulated.

    This seems like you’re walking that back. But again, Libertarians don’t always agree, but I’d point out a contradiction in the messaging of the site’s position.

    1. I don’t know what exactly you are referring to, but I think the argument there isn’t that the strength would be regulated in the sense of limited, but in the sense of being sure what the strength and composition is. And this would likely happen without any government interference. A company selling a potentially toxic drug is going to want to make sure its users know what they are getting and how much they can safely use.

  6. Progressivism is all about using the coercive power of government to force us to do what’s in the common good–as they see it. They try to justify it with science, as if inflicting their qualitative preferences on those who don’t share them could be justified with science, but the worst justification is probably the self-referential socialist bullshit.

    Because the government pays for your healthcare, be it through Medicare, Medicaid, or otherwise, we don’t have the right to consume things or sell things for consumption that might be harmful without the progressives’ permission. On the other hand, we can’t have a private option because forcing working people to pay for each others’ healthcare is their idea of the common good. This is another reason why progressives are America’s most horrible people.

    The common good is when we’re all free to make choices for ourselves–so we can all pursue what’s best for us as we see it.

    1. AKA ” Incrementalism.” The Boiling Frig was an eventual outcome. One could not reason with a nice warm Frog surrounded by tasty vegetables.

    2. That, double-plus “If it’s fun, there must be something wrong with it somehow.”

      Progressives aren’t satisfied with taking Life and Liberty, they want to go after Pursuit of Happiness as well.

  7. Stupid, self-destructive people have rights, too.

    Toss the entire cost of smoking — including medical consequences — onto the price of a pack of cigarettes, try to shield children from substandard parents, diminish secondhand smoke problems, and let people who wish to smoke tobacco do so.

    1. Nobody wants to say it, but there have been several analyses that show that for the most part smokers dying young and therefore not needing extensive old-age care more than offsets the extra expenses of smoking related health problems. The financial cost argument for banning smoking doesn’t really hold up.

      1. Facts be damned, Man! Your Heart must bleed for some righteous cause!

        Save the baby animals! Kill the baby humans and all that psychotic rot.

        Broccoli are people to!

      2. “…The financial cost argument for banning smoking doesn’t really hold up.”

        The asshole bigot really doesn’t care about reality; his fantasies are all that matter.

  8. Verdict reached: to be read 330-400 PM, Central time.

    Guessing he’s guilty, if it’s back this quickly.

  9. More Bleeding Heart Stupidity
    Nicotine is the least of problems in regular cigarettes. The laundry list of other toxic chemicals is.

    But ” nicotene” is a new Meme in re vaping so Groper Joes trying to sound relevant.

  10. The nanny state strikes again!

  11. at least Eric didn’t write an Economics article today and further embarrass himself

  12. The FDA’s War on Nicotine Will Encourage Americans To Decorate the Smoldering Ruins With Their Severed Bureaucrat Heads

  13. FDA wars will be stop one day that’s not add any bad impact on Americans because they verdant of this nicotine

  14. Once again the cdc does not care about health, they are polititions and only care about power and control

  15. No, no. You don’t understand Boehm. This will cause smokers to buy more cigarettes, cigarettes which are taxed at a princely near $5 a pack in some states. If the FDA really wanted to improve public health they’d just ban cigarettes outright (assume for a moment that improving public health is a legitimate function of government), however they’ve repeatedly made it very clear that they are very happy with cigarettes existing and happily being gobbled up by the underclass. All there is to read into this decision is that they want smokers to open their wallets more often.

    1. ^This^ It’s all about the tax revenue.

    2. Between federal excise taxes, state excise taxes, and payments under the tobacco master settlement agreement*, the cigarette industry is in reality a regulated, largely nationalized oligopoly. Excise taxes and the tobacco MSA payments are all based on volume of product sold. Excise taxes are larger than tobacco company revenue, much less profits.

  16. The FDA’s War on Nicotine Will Encourage Americans To Smoke More Cigarettes

    It’ll certainly drive them to drink. But what else is new.

    1. I no longer smoke cigarettes, but my guess is they won’t stop there. They have been chomping at the bit to shut down vaping, and probably other forms of nicotine too that aren’t the fda approved gum or patch. So we will be left with unflavored ultra light cigarettes that cost $20 pack. Time to maybe start growing your own tobacco.

  17. I haven’t smoked for over 20 years and the thought of government mandated low nicotine cigarettes has me craving for a smoke before it’s too late.

  18. Uh, when the Obama administration oversaw government give the FDA the right to regulate tobacco, wasn’t part of that deal that the FDA would NOT be allowed to reduce nicotine levels to non-addictive? Can someone confirm this – it has been over ten years since it happened.

    1. Marc, the direction from Congress was not that the FDA wasn’t allowed to reduce nicotine levels to “non-addictive,” but that they were not allowed to “reduce it to ZERO.” The other direct no-no was that they could not ban cigarettes outright.

      1. Were they to mandate zero nicotine for everything, they’d have to ban tomatoes and eggplants too. Don’t want to piss off the Sicilians!

        I remember my aunt used to smoke Carltons which had something like .00001 mg nicotine per cigarette. I was desperate once and bummed from her, it was like sucking through a paper straw, so I broke off the filter and still couldn’t get a buzz. Don’t think they could make any cigarettes with less nicotine than that.

  19. Eric Garner wasn’t arrested for selling loosies the day he died. That day, he got caught up in a disturbance with some other people, causing cops to respond.

    Seeing him, knowing he’d been arrested dozens of times previously, including for selling loosies, the cops just arrested him on the assumption that he was involved in the disturbance.

    Instead of cooperating and being released or ticketed, he fought, leading to his heart attack.

    But it’s incorrect to say he was selling loosies that fateful day. That day, he was just an asshole in the wrong place.

    1. He was selling loosies, the NYPD commissioner said as much and added that this was costing NYers millions in lost tax revenue. It probably wasn’t his only crime, but if NY didn’t have the thriving black market because of its ridiculous cigarette taxes, it may never have happened.

      1. I stand by the facts as I wrote above. Garner broke up a dispute that day, attracted notice, and was subsequently falsely accused of selling loosies that day.

        He was a criminal and a public nuisance, but on the day of his death he did not commit a crime.

        No witness ever claimed he sold them loosies that day. No one buying illegal cigarettes was charged with receiving untaxed material. Garner had less than 100 Virginia taxed cigarettes on him when he died. On video, he denied selling that day, when he didn’t deny being a criminal on other days.

        You’ve got your narrative wrong.

        He was singled out because he was a known problem, not because he did anything bad that day.

  20. Law/regulation is fundamentally immoral. Making rules and forcing them by threats, violence, and fraud is not socially sustainable. People rebel, resist, and resent authoritarianism. It’s our nature.

  21. The dose makes the poison. (Paracelsus)

    And those who seek the positive neural feedback from the poison will seek the dose. Ample real world studies show that reducing the nicotine merely means that smokers will extract more by how they puff, and use more cigarettes. Take away their nicotine and they compensate, but in dosing so, they get more of the bad stuff. The nicotine is a nearly completely benign drug, other than that is is habit forming.

  22. Everyone hates niccers.

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