The federal government has proposed for the first time a move to slash the nicotine levels found in cigarettes to curb addiction.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Scott Gottlieb announced Friday the development of new regulations governing nicotine.
Cracking Down On Nicotine
In a statement, the agency pointed to the 480,000 annual deaths in the United States due to tobacco, deeming it the leading cause in preventable illness and death. Tobacco is also blamed for almost $300 billion a year in direct health care and lost productivity costs.
“A renewed focus on nicotine can help us to achieve a world where cigarettes no longer addict future generations of our kids,” said Gottlieb in a Maryland speech.
In its new strategy, the FDA plans to initiate a public dialogue about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes, where liquid nicotine is converted into an inhalable vapor. Gottlieb is also seeking new rules governing flavored tobacco products and their use among children.
There is general concern around regulating “kid-appealing flavors” in cigars and e-cigarette products, as the FDA found that 90 percent of smokers had their first cigarette before turning 18. Around 2,500 children, too, try their first smoke every day.
While tar and other substances make cigarette smoking a deadly habit, it’s the nicotine that is considered the addictive component.
The FDA is giving e-cigarette makers four additional years to comply with a review of products already stocked on the market. It also seeks to create rules balancing safety and e-cigarettes’ role in smoking cessation, Gottlieb added.
What The Experts Are Saying
University of Pittsburgh researcher Eric Donny and his team found in their study that significant nicotine reduction, or by a good 90 percent, translated to smokers depending less on cigarettes as well as smoking fewer sticks. Their research also did not show increased smoking as an adverse reaction to lower nicotine levels.
“Reducing nicotine doesn’t make a cigarette safe, it just makes it less addictive,” Donny said welcoming the recent news from the FDA.
For Matthew Myers, who heads Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, it was a good overall move but hit the e-cigarettes delay as “a serious error.” Letting gummy bear-flavored e-cigarettes and similar products stay on market shelves will allow them to flourish with little public health oversight, he warned.
Earlier this year, smoking in the United Kingdom became a costlier vice as the government slapped tougher restrictions on tobacco products, with an expanded coverage on e-cigarettes.
The previous year, the European Union already enforced strict regulations, such as banning cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco that have flavorings masking tobacco smell and taste.