In a move almost guaranteed to prompt government response, a California company has launched a line of tobacco-free cigarettes fortified with synthetic nicotine. They’re available in non-tobacco flavors too—a virtual red flag for legislators and federal regulators already eager to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored vapes.
The product, called Ronin, is made from hemp flower, and each cigarette is supplemented with seven milligrams of synthetic nicotine—slightly less nicotine than contained in an average tobacco cigarette—and 50 mg of CBD. Ronin is available in Arctic Chill, Cherry Blossom, Juicy Grape, and Lemon Drop flavors. In tobacco cigarettes, flavors other than menthol were banned by the FDA in 2009.
The manufacturer, Ronin Smokes, makes some dubious health claims in a press release issued Wednesday, including that “Smokers can enjoy the same satisfying cigarette that they crave, without any of the residuals and impurities commonly found in tobacco-derived nicotine.”
The hemp cigarette, says Ronin executive vice president of sales “Joe A,” is an “elegant smoking solution for people who want to avoid the harsh additives from traditional factory-farmed tobacco, which can cause anxiety or dizziness.” (This may be the first company-issued press release in history that quotes an executive who declines to use his full name.)
The harms from smoking aren’t caused by “additives” or the miniscule levels of carcinogenic nitrosamines in tobacco-derived nicotine. They’re caused by inhaling smoke, which Ronin cigarettes also produce when they’re combusted. Other hemp cigarettes make similar claims (and are also wrong), but those brands have not added synthetic nicotine, which will cause alarms to go off in the offices at the FDA and private tobacco control organizations.
Because the 2009 Tobacco Control Act only gave the FDA authority over products containing nicotine “made or derived from tobacco” (and their components and parts), the FDA currently has no authority to regulate products made with synthetic nicotine. This has led some vaping manufacturers to skirt the agency’s onerous Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA) process by reformulating their products with synthetic nicotine.
The growth in sales of synthetic nicotine-based vapes—including by hated c-store brand Puff Bar—has already caused a panic among anti-vaping groups and the legislators aligned with them. Illinois Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi has begun an investigation of synthetic nicotine-based vapes, and a bill recently introduced in the House by New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill would give the FDA Center for Tobacco Products authority over products made with any kind of nicotine.
Passage of Rep. Sherrill’s bill would immediately force Ronin off the market until it is authorized through the PMTA process. However, some U.S. states have already restricted sales of products containing synthetic nicotine, and more will surely follow—especially if a hipster-bait product like Ronin begins to attract attention.