Was March a Turning Point for Tobacco Regulation in the U.S.?

By Nicholas J. Diamond

March was an important month for tobacco control in the U.S. While historically less progressive than other countries in regulating tobacco products, three recent developments offer encouraging signs of change. They also remind us of the critical role that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) plays in public health policymaking.

The Three ANPRMs
Last month, the FDA released three advanced notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on tobacco-related products. An ANPRM is a formal invitation for stakeholders to submit comments before a federal agency issues a proposed rule. In practical terms, an ANPRM enables stakeholders to weigh in on, and even potentially shape, a forthcoming policy by responding to specific issues for input.

Released on March 16, the first ANPRM addresses the development of a tobacco product standard for a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes. The FDA seeks comment on a number of policy design considerations including, among others: the merits of various maximum nicotine levels (e.g., 0.5mg nicotine/g); to which products a maximum nicotine level should apply (e.g., combusted cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco); and whether to use a stepped-down, or gradual, reduction in maximum nicotine levels.

Importantly, the FDA highlights factors that could reduce the benefits of a future policy and seeks comment on how to addresses them. For example, current smokers could switch to a tobacco product not covered under the policy or use that non-covered product in addition to the currently used (covered) product. Similarly, current smokers could increase the number of cigarettes smoked to maintain an equivalent level of nicotine overall. Continue reading