What does the future of smoking look like?

It’s unlikely it’ll be the same worn narrative of a very much alive yet quickly decomposing body with a gaping hole in its neck pleading to just say no. And it won’t be a newer version of early onset death either, gaily skipping around the moon clutching the newest vape apparatus and synthetic nicotine concoctions — inspired of course by the inner-essence of Mars grown mangos.

It won’t be that way because the current Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb is over it. The physician and cancer survivor is fed up with the burden tobacco companies have had not only on health costs through decades of reckless impunity, but also on the lives lost in families they’ve willingly torn apart in the name of profit. 

“What’s now clear is that FDA is at a unique moment in history, with profound new tools to address this devastating impact,” Gottlieb said in a July 2017 statement. “The key lies in taking a new and comprehensive approach to the regulation of nicotine.”

The World Health Organization estimates that each year, 7 million people die from smoking related illnesses; 12 percent of which aren’t even smokers, they just so happen to be within breathing distance of it. Smoking is, by a massive margin, the most prominent cause of avoidable death in the world and accounts for some $170 billion in direct medical care for U.S. adults according to the CDC. 


It’s why this past summer, Gottlieb and his team announced the FDA would be enacting a strict mandate to reduce levels of nicotine in tobacco products over the next few years. The hope is to make cigarettes less addictive and smoking safer, essentially putting Big Tobacco out of its long-held job security. 

To make it look like they actually care, some of the largest tobacco companies began announcing alternatives to their deadly sick-sticks even before the announcement knowing full well a shift in regulations was coming. Philip Morris, for one, has been touting its iQOS smokeless tobacco delivery product for months (and announced early this month its goal is to stop selling cigarettes altogether), while British American doubled-down on vaping technologies this past year. 

The question now is, who will come out on top? For the past half-decade, vaping and e-cigarettes have been front-runners in trendy alternatives. However compounding studies continue to shed doubt on them being a panacea for the addicted smoker. The reality is, consumers need and want options, which is why the industry is fighting tooth and nail to produce them.

Reducing the overall nicotine content, as is the Gottlieb's plan, is what will impact the need to smoke the most — thus lowering propensity for addiction and death toll by proxy. The FDA has been exploring the mandate for years, using a little-known plant biotechnology company named 22nd Century Group and its Very Low Nicotine (VLN) Spectrum cigarettes on smoking cessation trials.

The preliminary results of one 1,250-participant phase III were announced in early October by Dr. Dorothy Hatsukami, director of the Tobacco Research Programs at the University of Minnesota. During the release, she proclaimed there was a “greater likelihood of more rapid smoking cessation” with the immediate approach to nicotine reduction.

In the same release, Dr. Jonathan Foulds of Penn State College of Medicine, gave warning to Big Tobacco that everyone, in a nutshell, is tired of its shit. He stressed that action needs to be taken now, and that any diversion by the behemoth companies would only serve to be a waste of time for the thousands dying each year. He then stressed the importance of why now.

“Such a move [by FDA to reduce nicotine content of cigarettes] could result in one of the largest single improvements in public health ever [seen] in this country,” he said.

Yet regardless of how the market reacts to change, it’s well documented your run-of-the-mill combustible cigarettes like dad always smoked will soon join things like VCRs, Jell-O Pudding Pops and full-frontal lobotomies in the annals of history. 

After killing over 100 million people in the 20th century alone, kicking the habit has been a long time comin’. 

[Photo by David Yanutama on Unsplash]