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FDA to Lower Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

Roselind Zeng, Staff Writer

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to lower the amount of nicotine found in cigarettes, in an attempt to lower addiction statistics across the U.S. This move proves to be a monumental step for the agency, who had only received permission to regulate tobacco products in 2009. The FDA does not have the authority to ban the drug in its entirety, but has been slowly limiting the tobacco industry’s sales and marketing techniques.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb announced the decision to reporters on Mar. 15, stating that the “milestone places us on the road to achieving one of the biggest public health victories by saving millions of lives. As part of our comprehensive plan on tobacco and nicotine regulation announced last summer, we’re issuing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to explore a product standard to lower nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels.” To support the idea of nicotine reaching “minimally addictive levels”, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study on Mar. 15 that estimated the results of such a change. They concluded that “a nicotine product standard for cigarettes in the U.S. could save millions of lives and tens of millions of life-years over the next several decades.”

These changes will deeply impact the tobacco lobby’s hold on consumers; the industry has fought fiercely for their autonomy over the production of cigarettes and other tobacco-related goods. The FDA most recently forced tobacco makers to admit in an ad campaign that they were deliberately making cigarettes more addictive. However, for Dr. Gottlieb, the change is still not radical enough— 15% of adults in the U.S. still smoke. “Tobacco use also costs nearly $300 billion a year in direct health care and lost productivity. In fact, cigarettes are the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users.”

In terms of the policy change, the process for reform is designed to allow for public feedback. Dr. Gottlieb stated that the government is “interested in public input on critical questions such as: What potential maximum nicotine level would be appropriate for the protection of public health? Should a product standard be implemented all at once or gradually? What unintended consequences— such as the potential for illicit trade or for addicted smokers to compensate for lower nicotine by smoking more— might occur as a result?” From these unintended consequences, the most important thing for Dr. Gottlieb to consider is the people who are currently dependent on cigarettes. He said, “We must make it possible for current adult smokers who still seek nicotine to get it from alternative and less harmful sources.”

In the meantime, the tobacco industry will try to cooperate with the FDA the best it can. Dr. James Figlar, the executive vice president of research and development for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, has announced that “as this process gets underway, [the company will] look forward to working with the FDA on its science-based review of nicotine levels in cigarettes and to build on the opportunity of establishing a regulatory framework that is based on tobacco harm reduction and recognizes the continuum of risk.”


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FDA to Lower Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes