Permissive nicotine regulation as a complement to traditional tobacco control

Sumner, II, Walton
January 2005
BMC Public Health;2005, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p18
Academic Journal
Background: Cigarette smoking takes a staggering toll on human health and attracts considerable public health attention, yet real solutions seem distant. The 2004 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (US Senate bill S2461) would have given the US Food and Drug Administration limited authority to regulate cigarettes to "protect the public health." However, such legislation is unlikely to substantially reduce smoking or related deaths. Discussion: The past 500 years of tobacco control efforts demonstrate that nicotine prohibition is a practical impossibility for numerous reasons, state revenue being one of the most ominous. The FDA already has regulatory authority over pharmaceutical grade nicotine products, and requires pharmacists to dispense the most addictive of these only with prescriptions. Meanwhile, every corner store can sell far more addictive and dangerous cigarettes to any adult. The FDA could immediately increase competition between cigarettes and clean nicotine products by approving available nicotine products for over-the-counter sales to adults. Similarly permissive regulation of cigarettes and addictive nicotine products will reduce tobacco use and improve smokers' health, but increase nicotine use in the population. Fortunately, restricted youth access and accurate labeling of nicotine's absolute risks will dissuade many non-smokers from experimenting with it, while accurate depiction of its risks relative to cigarette smoking will encourage many smokers to switch. The FDA could take a series of small steps that might ultimately replace a large proportion of cigarette smoking with equally addictive nicotine products, without risking serious public health setbacks. Vaccine, methadone, and injury prevention policies establish relevant public health precedents. Summary: Cigarettes, or an equally addictive alternative, will be a permanent and common product in most societies. Regulations restricting only the safest addictive nicotine products are hard to justify. Addictive nicotine compliments other tobacco control strategies. Modern tobacco control policies are applicable to addictive nicotine. Controlled trials and test market studies are urgently needed to evaluate addictive nicotine as an alternative to smoking. Meanwhile, legislators should preserve the Food and Drug Administration's option to permit non-prescription sales of addictive nicotine.


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