The US Food and Drug Administration has announced its plan to cut nicotine in conventional cigarettes to “nonaddictive levels,” pushing tobacco companies’ stocks into the red.
The new regulations, which are yet to be finalized, are part of the government’s effort to push the tobacco industry toward developing alternatives that “may be less dangerous than cigarettes,” said the FDA in a press release on Friday.
“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,” said the FDA’s new Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, MD, who was appointed to the position by President Trump in April.
“Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use,” he added.
The agency, which is tasked with reviewing products in terms of their public health impact, gained oversight of tobacco products in 2009 through the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The law said that agency had “the authority to regulate the levels of tar, nicotine, and other harmful components of tobacco products.”
“The FDA plans to begin a public dialogue about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes to nonaddictive levels through achievable product standards,” the agency said Friday.
Regulators are also looking at banning menthol and flavored products because of their potential for attracting young people, according to the FDA.
The stocks of tobacco manufacturers plunged Friday, on the heels of the announcement.
Shares of Altria dropped as much as 19 percent, the biggest one-day decline since 1999, Bloomberg reported.
British American Tobacco’s stock fell 14 percent. Other companies saw similar drops.
“Until the eventual development of specific proposals, it’s too early to understand the practical implications,” Simon Evans, spokesman for Imperial Brands Plc, a UK-based tobacco manufacturer that sells Winston and Kool cigarettes, told Bloomberg. Shares of that company fell as much as 9.5 percent.
Washington lobbyists for the $130 billion American tobacco industry are expected to put up a fight to fend off what some believe could be the most sweeping federal effort to reduce smoking since the US Congress required cigarette packages to carry health warnings in 1965.
Some tobacco companies, like Philip Morris International and Altria Group, have already invested billions in developing alternative forms of delivering the addictive nicotine to their customers – such as vapor and electronic cigarettes.
Even though the non-burning alternatives are thought to have less health risks, their impact has yet to be fully studied.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 a year, according to the FDA.