A Rare Victory for Science in an F.D.A. Move


The Food and Drug Administration wants to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes.

Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration’s crackdown on cigarettes is a rare victory for science in the Trump era.

As a watchdog agency, the administration wants to lower nicotine levels in a hit to Big Tobacco, whose shares plunged on Friday. It says cigarettes are the only legal product that, over the long term, kills half of those who consume them as intended.

It is a marked departure from the White House’s rejection of evidence on climate change and its stated zeal for deregulation.

The agency said it wanted to bring down the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to nonaddictive levels. Its goal is to ensure it has “the proper scientific and regulatory foundation” to effectively put into effect tobacco oversight laws. The F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said that unless trends changed, 5.6 million young people alive today would die prematurely from smoking. The recognition of such statistics is a notable divergence from the approach of the energy secretary, Rick Perry, and the Environmental Protection Agency director, Scott Pruitt, who have argued with scientists and rejected widely accepted research on environmental issues.

The F.D.A. move batters an already targeted industry. About 15 percent of adults smoked in 2015, compared with 20 percent in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while laws restricting smoking in public areas are now the norm. But efforts to expand beyond traditional cigarettes and raise prices have helped deliver solid performances.

Altria, the maker of the Marlboro and Parliament brands, reported this week that second-quarter earnings rose 5 percent. The F.D.A. announcement wiped out $35 billion in market…

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