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New FDA plan wants to reduce smoking levels without targeting cigarette sales. Is this good for public health?




Heatless tobacco units are pictured in the widow display of an iQOS smokeless cigarette store on Wardour Street in London on May 9, 2017.
Heatless tobacco units are pictured in the widow display of an iQOS smokeless cigarette store on Wardour Street in London on May 9, 2017.
CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images

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Coming soon to a convenience store near you: cigarettes that aren’t addictive?

This could one day be a reality if a Food and Drug Administration plan to reducing smoking levels in the U.S. moves forward. The proposal focuses on two major points: reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes to the point where they’re almost non-addictive, and paving the way for tobacco companies to sell alternatives to traditional tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. One such product, called the iQOS is a smoking device that looks like a pen and heats tobacco but does not set it alight.

The proposal falls in line with an ongoing debate over what role the FDA should be playing in anti-smoking efforts. For about as long as anti-smoking advocacy has existed, the goal has been to get smokers to quit outright and, ultimately, to eliminate cigarette smoking from society altogether. Anti-smoking advocates say that there is still no safe alternative to smoking cigarettes and have taken issue with the FDA’s plan.

But there are others who say that the discussion around getting people to quit smoking has changed, and with new data and technology available to regulators, there should be a way to cut down on the dangerous effects of burning tobacco without preventing those adults who still want access to nicotine from getting it.

Guests:

Scott Ballin, a Washington, D.C.-based health policy consultant and longtime tobacco control policy advocate; former vice president and legislative counsel for the American Heart Association

Chris Bostic, deputy director for policy at Action on Smoking & Health (ASH), a nonprofit organization advocating for a tobacco-free society

Jacob Sullum, senior editor at Reason Magazine and syndicated columnist; he is the author of “For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health” (Free Press, 1998)



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