Place nicotine under the Controlled Substances Act

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{{#badges: Tobaccowiki}} Place nicotine under the Controlled Substances Act

Regulation of nicotine by the Controlled Substances Act

A legally acceptable option for regulating tobacco products is to place nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco, under the Controlled Substances Act. By including nicotine in Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, which contains drugs with a high potential for abuse and dependence but continued medical usefulness, such as cocaine and various opioids, stimulants and hypnotics, the availability of nicotine for the treatment of nicotine addiction, in form of Nicotine Replacement Therapy, NRT, would be preserved. But nicotine in any other form would be outlawed.

Nicotine would then be back on prescription only, as it had formerly been till 1996. As a Schedule II drug, nicotine dispensed in NRT formulations would then require the same procedure that has to be followed when prescribing other controlled substances. This constraint should help prevent the now uncontrolled, spreading use of NRT for smoking cessation, that is aggressively pursued by the makers of NRT products and those affiliated with them.

As for the tobacco industry, it could then legally sell only nicotine-free tobacco products which can be expected to lose attraction for the buyer over time. This would bring about the gradual phasing out of tobacco marketing and use, and with it the reduction and eventual elimination of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality. Once this goal is achieved, nicotine can be removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

Ending tobacco trade by applying tools provided in the Constitution

According to the late Milton Friedman, nobel laureate in economics, corporate officials have only one "social responsibility," i.e.,"to make as much money for their shareholders as possible". Maximum profitability is based on product quality and product safety. In the case of tobacco, however, these market forces are suspended by the addictiveness of the products. Here, governmental intervention is necessary to protect the consumer.

In their wisdom, the Framers of the Constitution granted Congress the right to regulate commerce, empowering the U.S. government by the "Commerce Clause" of Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution to stop the interstate trade of dangerous merchandise. If this authority were exercised in the case of tobacco, it could usher in the beginning of the end of tobacco marketing. Such action must clearly be distinguished from prohibition, since individuals would still be able to grow tobacco locally and strictly for personal use.


The reality is simply this: The tobacco industry makes and markets a product that is addictive, toxic and carcinogenic, and it maims or kills when used as intended. The worldwide death toll from cigarette smoking could approach the one billion mark by the end of the 21st century. No other product officially traded on world markets shares this unique notoriety with tobacco (Ginzel, K.H. After Some 100 Million Deaths - What's Next?).

The continued prosperity of the industry depends on the successful recruitment of children and adolescents into the ranks of smokers. Statistics have convincingly shown that very few people start to smoke above age 21. This is why the industry has vehemently opposed any legislation that would have raised the legal minimum age for buying tobacco products to age 21. Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler pointedly called smoking "a pediatric disease". The inescapable truth, sadly affirmed by repeated experience over the past half century, is that no stop-gap measures of any kind can be expected to protect children from the onslaught of Big Tobacco. Without them as future customers, tobacco business would be doomed.

Therefore, if government and society honestly want kids not to become victims of tobacco use, the logically compelling choice is to end the commercial marketing of tobacco products. The task would be monumental, but it is the only practical, social, and ethical alternative to allowing the killing to continue. Although only trade within the U.S. would initially be affected, other countries, assisted by WHO's worldwide tobacco control initiative, might soon follow our lead. Indeed, final success would depend on full international cooperation. There are positive indicators that the time is right for such comprehensive action. Some U.S.-based tobacco corporations are already sufficiently diversified in areas other than tobacco to be able to phase out the manufacture of tobacco products while expanding their share in non-tobacco commodities.

Tobacco farmers should be encouraged and assisted to shift from conventional tobacco farming to the cultivation of tobacco plants for the extraction of tobacco protein, which has been shown to be superior to all other plant proteins tested and deserves full-scale development and utilization for food as well as a variety of medicinal purposes (Ginzel, K.H., Protein, An Alternative Tobacco Crop). What an intriguing prospect that the same plant that has killed millions of people should also possess the potential and capacity of feeding a protein-starved world and stimulating novel biotechnological research. Neither tobacco nor anything that human ingenuity has brought forth is inherently evil. It just depends on what we, collectively and individually, make of it.

Finally, facing the stark reality laid out in the preceding paragraphs, no nation claiming to uphold the fundamental tenets of civilization can any longer afford not to act.


K.H. Ginzel, M.D.
Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology and Toxicology
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
66 Stage Road, Westhampton, MA 01027
email: (substitute at "@" sign for the "AT")