Cigarette Smoking Could Be Safer as FDA Moves to Strip Nicotine

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The FDA hopes to enforce regulations that will lower nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them less addictive. REUTERS

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday announced a large-scale, multiyear plan to address the public health impact of tobacco. Namely, the agency will enforce regulations to limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels.

The agency says the new plan will help limit the number of children who become regular smokers, as well as reduce the rates of smoking-related deaths caused by disease such as cancer and heart disease.

In a press release, published on the agency’s website on Friday, the FDA said it will ensure it has the proper scientific and regulatory foundation to efficiently and effectively implement the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Signed into law in 2009 by former President Obama, the Act gives the FDA power to regulate the tobacco industry.

“[An] overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes—the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users,” Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, said in a statement. “Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use.” The center of this effort, he says, must be a shared vision for “a world where cigarettes would no longer create or sustain addiction, and where adults who still need or want nicotine could get it from alternative and less harmful sources.”

More than 480,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. from smoking-related illnesses. These conditions also pose an excessive financial burden, with direct health care and lost productivity costs totaling nearly $300 billion a year.

Under new guidelines, applications for newly regulated products, such as cigars, pipe tobacco and hookah tobacco will need to be submitted by August 8, 2021. Applications for noncombustible products, such as e-cigarettes, would be submitted by August 8, 2022. The agency is also seeking public comment on the role that flavors (including menthol) in tobacco products play in attracting new users, as well as additional input and scientific data on the patterns of use and public health impacts from premium cigars.

The FDA says it is looking into the potential public health benefits and any possible adverse effects of lowering nicotine in cigarettes. Almost 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking before the age of 18 and nearly 2,500 youth smoke their first cigarette every day in the U.S. Less nicotine in cigarettes could mean fewer people in future generations become addicted to cigarettes. The approach could also help more smokers successfully quit for good.

The agency says the new plan isn’t meant to simply snuff out a multi-billion dollar industry, but rather to encourage companies to develop innovative products that prove to be less dangerous than cigarettes. However, the tobacco industry is already experiencing the blow on the stock market. According to CNBC, shares of Altria Group, maker of Marlboro and Parliament brands plummeted more than 10 percent after the FDA's announcement on Friday morning.