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Counterproductive federal nicotine limits will only increase harm

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Just one month after publishing a rule to ban menthol cigarettes, President Biden intends to force tobacco companies to reduce cigarette nicotine content. Lower nicotine content in cigarettes can quickly be expected to increase cigarette consumption.  

Why? Nicotine is a highly addictive, but relatively harmless substance, much like caffeine. Nicotine itself does not cause cancer, heart disease, or lung disease. More than 7,000 other chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke cause those illnesses. It is ridiculous to seek a limit on nicotine, the least dangerous of these ingredients. 

Michael Russell, one of the first researchers to identify nicotine as the primary reason smokers became addicted, is often quoted as saying, “people smoke for the nicotine, but they die from the tar.” If President Biden gets his way, people will be forced to smoke more cigarettes to get the nicotine they crave. Someone who typically smokes one pack a day would now need two, or even three, packs of deadly cigarettes to meet their addiction. That’s a lot more tar. 

This would also mean that people addicted to cigarettes would spend more of their hard-earned money buying cigarettes. Let’s not forget that this administration spent months denying and downplaying rampant inflation, which hurts the poor more than it hurts the rich. While inflation might not bother the President or the D.C. elites who give him advice, the average American struggles to fill their car with gas and put food on their table. Considering 72 percent of cigarette smokers come from low-income communities, this proposal comes at the cruelest possible time.  

In New York, those in the highest income groups spend only 2 percent of their annual income on cigarettes. In contrast, those in lower-income groups spend nearly 25 percent of their income on cigarettes. President Biden is embracing the role of a sick, twisted Robin Hood who takes from the poor and gives to the rich, all in the name of “public health.” While the Biden administration may think they are sticking it to Big Tobacco by limiting nicotine content, this decision will increase cigarette sales and lead to more illness and death. 

Not only would this proposal have public health and economic ramifications, but it would also weaken America’s national security. As we have seen from past prohibitions, banning products does not reduce demand. Instead, it offers criminals the opportunity to profit. Tobacco smuggling is primarily run by highly organized and highly dangerous international crime syndicates. The profits these criminal groups make from tobacco smuggling are used to fund human trafficking, money laundering and even terrorism. Limiting nicotine in cigarettes would energize these criminals and make America a less safe place to live and work. 

This is also a classic example of the president exceeding his authority. By pushing this proposal through the Food and Drug Administration, where the public has little to no say, the president is making it clear that he couldn’t care less what Americans think of his decisions. It’s a lot easier to convince life-long bureaucrats to go along with bad decisions than Congress and the American people who elect them. 

Addiction is not a choice but making life more expensive for people who use tobacco products is a choice. At a time of great economic uncertainty, making survival more difficult for those who are barely hanging on is unwise. The Biden administration is playing politics with our national security and the lives of millions of Americans. 

Karl Abramson is a consumer issues fellow at Americans for Tax Reform.

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