June 22, 2022 - 4:00pm

Some Americans looking at the latest inflation numbers might feel the urge to smoke. But the cigarette won’t do much to soothe their nerves if a proposed new Food and Drug Administration rule goes into effect. 

According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration intends to move forward with a rule — mulled since last April — that would reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes by as much as 95%. The rule wouldn’t take effect for “several years”, according to the Journal

This latest move is part of a larger Biden administration war on nicotine: in April, the FDA announced that it would be pushing for the elimination of menthol cigarettes, which are disproportionately smoked by black Americans. And just this morning, the Journal reported that the agency is prepared to order Juul, the most popular e-cigarette brand in the United States, to remove its products from the market. 

The public-health rationale for such a move is fairly clear: smoking causes cancer, and research from the FDA suggests that when nicotine levels are drastically reduced, people smoke less and are more likely to quit.

And yet, it’s a strange emphasis for an administration that has supported the decriminalisation of marijuana and promoted “harm-reduction” strategies for deadly drugs like fentanyl, meth, and crack-cocaine, which are designed to help users “safely” maintain their drug use rather than cajoling them into sobriety. In February, for instance, the Department of Health and Human Services had to abandon a plan to fund the distribution of free crack pipes after public backlash. 

Speaking in April in response to the proposed menthol ban, the Reverend Al Sharpton commented on the hypocrisy of the administration’s drug policy: “That puts us in a very awkward position as ministers,” Sharpton said. “Grandma can’t smoke her Kools but Jamal can smoke his weed. That puts us in an awkward kind of position that looks paradoxical.” 

Indeed it does. It’s also worth noting that unlike fentanyl, meth, and marijuana, all of which either kill you or make you stupid, nicotine is a well-known cognitive enhancer. A 2018 study noted that “nicotine had significant positive effects on fine motor, short-term episodic memory, and working memory performance”, a fact noted by eminent minds such as UnHerd contributor and former smoker Edward Luttwak.

So millions of Americans can now look forward to living slightly longer while getting slightly dumber and enjoying a little less freedom. Perhaps they should consider taking up crack.

Park MacDougald is Deputy Literary Editor for Tablet