Illicit Trade Risks ‘Too Small and Weak’ to Delay FDA Rule to Reduce Nicotine in Cigarettes

Contact: Johan Marulanda / johan.marulanda@georgetown.edu

EMBARGOED: Wednesday, June 5, 2019; 4:00 PM ET

WASHINGTON | New analysis shows that any illicit trade of full-nicotine cigarettes after a new FDA rule to reduce nicotine in smoked tobacco products would be ‘too small’ to interfere with public health gains, directly contradicting tobacco industry arguments against the rule.

“The many practical constraints from both the demand and supply side make any possible illicit trade in noncomplying cigarettes after an FDA nicotine-minimization rule too small to reduce its public health gains,” writes Eric Lindblom, Director of Tobacco Control and Food & Drug Law, at the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown Law, in the American Journal of Public Health.  “No other FDA action could do as much to reduce tobacco harms and costs more quickly.”

The proposed rule, set to be published in October 2019, would lower nicotine levels in cigarettes and certain other combusted tobacco products to make them minimally addictive. The largest cigarette-selling tobacco companies have already opposed the rule, arguing that it would prompt a new illicit trade in non-complying full nicotine cigarettes that is larger than the current illicit trade in tax-evading cigarettes.

But Lindblom points out that an illicit trade of full-nicotine cigarettes “would be harder to establish or maintain.”  They would have to be smuggled across international borders or produced by brand-new illegal domestic manufacturing. Creating a network of illegal sellers “large enough to serve a fraction of today’s smokers would be impractical if not impossible” because it would be “highly visible and easy to stop.”

The demand for illicit full-nicotine cigarettes would be relatively small because many smokers would successfully quit in response to a nicotine-reduction rule and many others “would accept legal e-cigarettes as an alternative way to inhale nicotine.”

Lindblom concludes, “illicit trade risks are too small and weak to justify any further delay in FDA’s implementation of  a strong nicotine-minimizing rule.”, “Even with pessimistic assumptions, tens of millions of smokers would quit, switch to nonsmoked products, reduce their smoking or never start, saving millions of lives.”  

Lindblom’s piece comments on a related article in the same issue with the same earlier online release: Ribisl, KM, et al., “Strategies to Reduce Illicit Trade of Regular Nicotine Products After Introduction of a Low-Nicotine Tobacco Product Standard.”

To interview Lindblom, or for more information, contact him enl27@law.georgetown.edu

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