The FDA wants to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes to fight addiction

Credit Joel Saget Getty Images

Credit Joel Saget Getty Images

The U.S. government proposed cutting nicotine in cigarettes to "non-addictive" levels on Friday in a major regulatory shift created to move smokers toward potentially less harmful e-cigarettes.

But he added that the extension of e-cigarette deadlines "will allow egregious, kid-friendly e-cigarettes and cigars, in flavors like gummy bear, cherry crush and banana smash, to stay on the market with little public health oversight".

"Under expected revised timelines, applications for newly-regulated combustible products, such as cigars, pipe tobacco and hookah tobacco, would be submitted by August 8, 2021, and applications for non-combustible products such as... e-cigarettes would be submitted by August 8, 2022", the US FDA said.

"Addressing the detrimental role of flavors, including menthol, in the initiation of tobacco use will be a very significant step in reducing tobacco use among our youth", she said.

With almost 500,000 deaths attributed to tobacco use each year in the United States, the products are responsible for almost $300 billion in lost productivity and direct healthcare costs.

"The Lung Association is concerned", said Erika Sward, the association's vice president for national advocacy. Its Risk Analysis Division has been at the forefront of advancing a harm-reduction approach as a more effective public health strategy rather than the regulatory path imposed by the Obama Administration, which would have effectively banned nearly all e-cigarettes on the market today, the thinktank said.

In a statement, the FDA also said it will "begin a public dialogue about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes to non-addictive levels through achievable product standards".

Nicotine is found naturally in tobacco, but its affect is often exacerbated by cigarette companies altering the filters and paper to ensure maximum nicotine ingestion. At the center of the focus are nicotine and the issue of addiction.

The FDA's announcement was welcomed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids as "a bold and comprehensive vision". But he worries it may stall.

In his first speech to the staff at FDA in July, newly confirmed FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, had singled out smoking cessation as a mission that could have the most impact to prevent illness and mortality.

British American Tobacco shares, trading close to all-time highs, fell 6.8 percent to post their biggest one-day loss in nine 9 years.

In a June 16, 2010 press release, Dr. David Kessler, the former FDA Commissioner, recommended that "the FDA should quickly move to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive levels".

BAT is "the largest vapour company in the world and the successful completion of the Reynolds acquisition bolsters our leading position in both NGPs and combustibles", said chairman Richard Burrows.

But the FDA is seeking public comment, input from stakeholders and research that outlines the health benefits and any adverse effects of lowering nicotine levels, as well as any evidence supporting or opposing the theory that e-cigarettes and vaping products help smokers quit.

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