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Last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a plan to reduce smoking-related deaths in the United States. This would be achieved by reducing the level of nicotine in cigarettes to such a low level that they are non-addictive.
According to FDA Chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb, this action, “is a cornerstone of our new and more comprehensive approach to effective tobacco regulation.”
Nicotine itself is not a major cause of cancer, but many of the other chemical compounds that enter the body as a result of smoking cigarettes are. However, nicotine is an incredibly addictive substance. The reason that many individuals who smoke continue to do so (despite the mountains of medical research proving that smoking causes death over many decades) is because they are addicted to nicotine.
If these new regulations pass, nicotine levels in cigarettes would be so low that users could not extract a sufficient amount of the chemical from smoking to either create or sustain an addiction. Currently, most cigarettes are between 1% and 2% nicotine. Under these guidelines, cigarettes would contain less than a 10th of that amount of nicotine.
The FDA could take these actions as a result of the Tobacco Control Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. That act allows the FDA to set a maximum nicotine level to protect public health, although it bars the agency from banning nicotine entirely.
This restriction is likely to be the cause of legal challenges to the new regulations by the tobacco industry, who will almost certainly argue that these regulations are so restrictive as to functionally ban nicotine altogether. It is clear how reducing the level of nicotine in cigarettes would impact their finances, as their stock prices plummeted within hours of Dr. Gottlieb’s announcement. In any case, these regulations would not go into effect immediately. Instead, they are part of a “multiyear road map.” Hopefully, they will be introduced early enough to prevent thousands of individuals from becoming addicted to smoking and help millions of nicotine addicts quit.
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