The FDA hopes to make smoking non-addictive, according to a new regulatory plan announced July 28.
As part of a series of new regulatory efforts to try to limit the harmful effects of tobacco, the agency plans to try to cut nicotine levels in cigarettes significantly.
In a press release, the FDA stated:
“The FDA plans to begin a public dialogue about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes to non-addictive levels through achievable product standards. The agency intends to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to seek input on the potential public health benefits and any possible adverse effects of lowering nicotine in cigarettes.”
Mostly because of cigarette smoking, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the US and around the world. Tobacco kills more than 480,000 people a year in the US and costs society almost $300 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity.
Almost 90% of people begin smoking before they turn 18, and the long-term use that comes with their addiction kills half of those life-long users.
Nicotine isn’t the only cause of the diseases that come from smoking, but it is the chemical that hooks users because of the effects that it has on the brain. It’s naturally found in tobacco leaves, though cigarette companies add chemicals that force tobacco to deliver more nicotine when burned.
Researchers have long speculated that cutting nicotine levels could make it far easier for smokers to quit and to avoid getting hooked in the first place. This isn’t the first time the FDA has discussed this idea, but moving forward with a plan to limit nicotine would be a major step towards that goal.
There are obstacles to the plan, however, including figuring out to deal with the people currently addicted to nicotine and finding the best ways to prevent people from smoking far more cigarettes in order to get the psychoactive effects of nicotine that they crave. A “safe level” of nicotine would need to be established.
The FDA also announced plans to issue new regulations for products like cigars, pipe tobacco, and e-cigarettes.
It’s likely that tobacco companies will fight the effort. Tobacco company shares plunged after the FDA announced the proposal.
“The 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,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in a statement.