The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has proposed new rules that could mark the biggest change to tobacco regulation since Congress mandated warning labels on cigarettes in 1970.
Under the proposals, tobacco companies would be required to reduce the nicotine content in smoking products. The FDA did not specify the amount of nicotine content that would have to be reduced, but said "significantly."
"We're looking to make the riskiest products, which are combustible cigarettes, less addictive," FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Fox News.
It is now possible to lower nicotine content thanks to advances in tobacco plant genetic modification, as also with leeching techniques, not unlike coffee decaffeination.
According to Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, who spoke to Fox News, if approved, the new regulations will put tobacco companies to test.
"If you eliminate the nicotine, if you reduce the addictiveness of the product, the smoker will actually have a real free choice," he said. "Phillip Morris International has been promoting itself as a company that wants to move current tobacco users from products that kill them to products that don't kill them. We'll find out if they mean it."
Meanwhile, a number of revelations had surfaced recently about the activities of Big Tobacco companies in markets across the developing world. According to one investigation by Reuters, Philip Morris International has been targeting young people in India through colourful adverts and promotions at clubs and parties in large cities like Delhi. In Uganda, British American Tobacco has won a legal battle against expansion of health warnings on packets and point-of-sale displays.
According to commentators, for people who have studied the history of the tobacco industry, these tactics will come as no surprise. In the developing world, Big Tobacco was replicating the advertising strategies which it first carried out in countries like UK over 60 years ago.