Smoking in the U.S. has been on the decline for decades, research shows, but the habit is still the cause of a great number of deaths and illnesses. Whether the noticeable dip in tobacco use is because of alternatives like vaping or consumers being more informed isn’t known, but the Food and Drug Administration isn’t going to take any chances. The agency plans to greatly reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes in an effort to wean smokers off of the habit while also preventing new smokers from ever starting.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced the change in a statement. Citing some smoking statistics, Gottlieb describes the “combination of toxicity, addictiveness, prevalence, and effect on non-users” as the reasons for the new regulation. While the agency hasn’t decided how much it will slash nicotine levels, or when the regulation goes into effect, the goal is clear — make cigarettes less addictive. Via NPR:
The agency cited research that could support reducing levels of nicotine to 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams per cigarette. The nicotine levels delivered by conventional cigarettes made domestically are in the range of 1.1 to 1.7 milligrams, according to the notice.
Cutting nicotine to 0.5 milligram or less could help about 5 million adults smokers to quit within one year and prevent more than 33 million people from becoming regular smokers by the year 2100. The shift could reduce the current U.S. smoking rate from 15 percent to as low as 1.4 percent, the FDA said, and prevent 8 million tobacco-related deaths by the end of the century.
While the regulation runs the risk of creating a black market of high-nicotine cigarettes, anti-smoking advocates applauded the new rule. “The announcement today is potentially the most significant public health step the Food and Drug Administration has taken in decades,” Matthew Myers, who heads the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said.