FDA goes after cigarettes again

Ever since they started putting warning labels on smokes, cigarette companies have been pushing back, trying to keep selling their product even as the popular culture progressively shoved smokers, literally, into the corners of society.

Now, years after smoking was banned in most restaurants, the Food and Drug Administration is back to regulate cigarettes once again. According to reports in Reuters, the FDA wants tobacco companies to “reduce nicotine levels” in cigarettes while also taking steps to encourage smokers to shift to “potentially less harmful” e-cigarettes.

The End of Smoking

As a result of this regulatory shift, tobacco company stocks are plunging, and major tobacco manufacturers are scrambling to find purchase in a marketplace that is shifting as well. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb defended the potential new regulations by saying:

“Nicotine itself is not responsible for the cancer, the lung disease and heart disease that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year… It’s the other chemical compounds in tobacco and in the smoke created by setting tobacco on fire that directly cause illness and death.”

Just the mention of the possible new regulations created shivers in the market, with some industry watchers predicting losses in excess of $60 billion in market value.

And that’s just the beginning. While the FDA does not have the authority to force tobacco makers to stop making and selling cigarettes, and it certainly can’t reduce the amount of nicotine in smokes completely, Gottlieb said he is in favor of a study to determine ways to transition tobacco companies to a “less addictive” cigarette.

“…there’s still much research to be done on these products and the risks that they may pose, they may also present benefits that we must consider…” he said.

AntiSmoking Groups Killing Big Tobacco

Antismoking groups praised the news, with Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids calling the potential new regulations, “a bold, comprehensive vision with the potential to accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use and death…”

Not that Myers was entirely pleased, adding that the new regulations, which ostensibly promote e-cigs, would “allow egregious, kid-friendly e-cigarettes and cigars, in flavors like gummy bear, cherry crush, and banana smash, to stay on the market…”

This story highlights a key aspect of the PR debate on these issues. Does the government have the right to regulate what people choose to ingest? While the courts have come down on both sides of this argument on various different issues, tobacco companies and smokers have, repeatedly, said “NO!” Meanwhile, those concerned about the risks of smoking believe they need to be protected from the apparent dangers of tobacco smoke.

For decades now, public sentiment has been siding with those who want to limit, but not ban, smoking. It would take a considerable change in messaging to push the needed back to the days when even doctors were regularly lighting up.

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