Big Tobacco asks regulator to convince people nicotine isn’t that bad

Big Tobacco asks regulator to convince people nicotine isn’t that bad

Marlboro cigarettes maker Altria Group wants to enlist an unlikely partner in convincing consumers that nicotine isn’t as bad as they think – its regulator.

The company asked the US Food and Drug Administration to tackle misperceptions about nicotine as part of a proposed $US100 million ($130 million) advertising campaign to reduce the harm caused by tobacco, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg News.

That could be difficult with about three-fourths of US adults incorrectly believing nicotine causes cancer, Altria said in the communication, citing government research. Clearing up the drug’s health risks will be key to the agency reducing smoking because it will help convince cigarette users to switch to non-combustible options for nicotine, the company said.

While there are at least 60 well-established carcinogens in cigarette smoke, it’s been known for years that nicotine isn’t the direct cause of many of smoking’s ills. The drug has even been touted as a way to ease tension and sharpen the mind. But nicotine is the ingredient that addicts people to tobacco products, and it has risks, including possibly making people more susceptible to abusing opioids, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a US government agency.

The FDA “should commit resources and expertise to correct the deeply entrenched public misperceptions regarding the health risks of nicotine,” Paige Magness, Altria’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs, said in the letter dated February 25.

Such a campaign would help the agency by getting more smokers to use non-combustible offerings that “may present lower health risk,” according to the letter.

The FDA declined to comment.

‘Moving beyond smoking’

The stakes are high for Altria. The company still generates 86 per cent of its $US20.8 billion in annual revenue from cigarettes and cigars. With that heavily regulated market slowing, the company’s mantra has become what it calls “moving beyond smoking.” But that transition, which the rest of the tobacco industry has also embraced, could be derailed if there isn’t a regulatory blessing to promote these new product categories.