Mandating Low-Nicotine Cigarettes Could Make Smoking More Dangerous

Plus: Supreme Court rules on school choice and criminal justice reform, Louisiana's trigger law criminalizes abortion at any stage, and more...


The Biden administration continues its misguided war on nicotine. On Tuesday, the administration revealed plans to require cigarette makers to severely cut the amount of nicotine in their products. A proposed rule change "would establish a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes and certain finished tobacco products." The idea, it says, is to make cigarettes less addictive.

Nicotine is the substance in cigarettes that makes them physically addictive. But nicotine itself isn't what makes cigarettes so dangerous. (Some scientists "wonder if a daily dose could be as benign as the caffeine many of us get from a morning coffee," notes Scientific American.) It's the other ingredients in cigarettes, and the byproducts of combustion, that make smoking cigarettes so bad for you.

This is one reason why the war on vaping is so stupid, and also speaks to the half-baked premises of the Biden administration's latest anti-smoking plan.

In a world with lower-nicotine cigarettes, people already addicted to nicotine will still be addicted—they'll just have to smoke more cigarettes to get their nicotine fix. That means that mandating all U.S. cigarettes be low-nicotine cigarettes could actually make smoking riskier by requiring smokers to smoke more and consume more of the other substances in cigarettes in order to get the same level of nicotine they're used to.

Research funded by the government suggests that smokers will smoke more or inhale more deeply when cigarette nicotine levels are cut somewhat but will scale back or quit if nicotine is nearly eliminated from cigarettes, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But these studies exist in settings where smokers don't have alternatives. In the real world, nearly eliminating nicotine from legal cigarettes could trigger unintended consequences.

If the U.S. goes all low-nicotine smokes, other countries will still be producing full-nicotine cigarettes. And this opens up a great opportunity for smuggling and black market sales of higher nicotine cigarettes.

A bigger black market in cigarettes means three things, none of them good. First, it creates more room for organized crime to operate. Second, it creates more room for counterfeit cigarettes that could be even more dangerous for consumers. And third, it invites more policing of cigarette sales, which means more police time wasted on victimless crimes, more monitoring and harassment of business owners, and more potentially dangerous interactions between individuals and police.

"People applauding this policy should also specify what prison term they favor for people who sell full-strength cigarettes in violation of it," suggests Jacob Grier. "One year? Five years? I'm curious to know, but they never say."

Even absent black-market concerns, there are reasons to doubt the government research showing lowering nicotine levels means less smoking. From the Journal:

Industry executives also point to the fact that many study participants cheated by smoking regular cigarettes when they were supposed to be smoking only low-nicotine cigarettes. Researchers acknowledge this point.

"That certainly is a limitation of the studies, because people did not fully comply," Dr. Benowitz said. Despite the cheating, participants reduced their nicotine intake by 70%, he said.

Reducing nicotine intake per se shouldn't be the point though. Reducing nicotine intake without reducing overall cigarettes smoked doesn't help anyone.

Martin Cullip at Filter worries that lowering nicotine could also backfire by convincing some smokers that their habit is harmless. "In short, the [Food and Drug Administration's] scaremongering has managed to convince many people that nicotine is the most harmful ingredient of a combustible cigarette, when nicotine does not cause significant harms." In effect, "many smokers may understand the new products to be a government-approved green light to carry on smoking tobacco. This misguided understanding is liable to have deadly consequences."

Meanwhile, while authorities have gone all-in on low-nicotine cigarettes as a means to reduce smoking, they've repeatedly attacked a more sane way to do so: promoting vaping—which provides nicotine without the tar and combustion—as an alternative to smoking.


The Supreme Court issued rulings on school choice and criminal justice cases yesterday. For more, see:

In a third ruling issued yesterday, the court held 7–2 that a certain sort of attempted robbery does not qualify as a "crime of violence." The case—United States v. Taylor—asked whether someone convicted for attempted robbery under the Hobbs Act has also committed a crime of violence. "This matters because the additional 'crime of violence' designation carries with it a second felony conviction and extra years in prison," notes Reason's Damon Root.


Louisiana's trigger law criminalizes abortion at all stages. A measure signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards yesterday bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest, and makes it a crime punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison to perform an abortion.

The law will take effect immediately if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

"Senate Bill 342 by Sen. Katrina Jackson (D–Monroe) updates Louisiana's 2006 abortion 'trigger law' and more than a dozen other prospective abortion restrictions," notes WRKF Baton Rouge. "The bill stiffens the criminal penalties for abortion providers already outlined in state law, doubling the maximum sentences to 10 and 15 years, depending on when an abortion is performed during a pregnancy."

SB 342 explicitly states that pregnant women cannot be prosecuted for the crime of abortion. "But critics of the bill say its broadened definition of personhood could expose doctors and patients alike to prosecution for homicide and dozens of other offenses in the state's criminal code," notes WRKF.

Under Louisiana's new law, abortion is a crime from the moment a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. This is an update from the old law, which specified that the ban on abortion started at fertilization and may have been used to ban emergency contraception


Uvalde police's response to the shooter at Robb Elementary School was an "abject failure," Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state legislators yesterday. "The officers had weapons. The children had none. The officers had body armor. The children had none. The officers had training. The subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes, and 8 seconds. That's how long children waited and the teachers waited in Room 111 to be rescued," McCraw said, identifying school district police chief and on-scene commander Pete Arredondo as major factors in the failure. "The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering Room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children."

More from Reason's C.J. Ciaramella:

McCraw's testimony comes on the heels of reporting by multiple Texas news outlets that contradict Arredondo's narrative of the May 24 mass shooting that left 19 elementary school students and two teachers dead. Arredondo said in a recent interview with The Texas Tribune that he didn't consider himself to be the on-scene commander and that officers waited outside the door because they were outgunned and lacked breaching tools or keys to open the doors.

However, the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV reviewed hallway footage of the incident and reported that officers arrived with a ballistic shield and rifles 19 minutes after the gunman entered the school. They also had a breaching tool, called a Halligan bar. The Texas Tribune reported that none of the security footage it reviewed shows officers checking the door or attempting to unlock it.

"I have great reasons to believe it was never secured," McCraw testified about the door. "How about trying the door and seeing if it's locked?"


• More from the January 6 investigative committee hearings.

• A California measure decriminalizing loitering for prostitution purposes is on its way to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. (More background here.)

• "Chicago police officers will no longer be allowed to chase people on foot simply because they run away or give chase over minor offenses," reports the Associated Press. The announcement comes "more than a year after two foot pursuits ended with officers fatally shooting a 13-year-old boy and 22-year-old man."

• "Another individual has died while in custody at Rikers Island, marking the seventh death this year at New York City's troubled jail complex," noted Gothamist yesterday. Now:

• Twitter's board of directors has approved Elon Musk's purchase of the company.

• Gun and ammunition sales would be specially tracked if a bank gets its way. Amalgamated Bank wants to create a special merchant category for guns and ammunition, which would allow credit card companies and banks to "file what's called a suspicious activity report with law enforcement if they suspect possible gun crimes," notes CBS News. For now, however, the effort has been blocked by the International Standards Organization.

• Does anyone care about Elvis Presley anymore?