Federal health officials took the first step on Thursday to reduce addictive nicotine levels in cigarettes, an unprecedented measure designed to help smokers quit smoking and prevent future generations from getting hooked .
proposed last summer, but provided new details in a government report on the potential impact of drastically cutting nicotine from cigarettes, by up to 80 percent.
Currently, there are no limits to nicotine, which occurs naturally in tobacco plants. Under the law, the FDA can regulate nicotine, although it can not eliminate it completely.
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The FDA's powers to control the tobacco industry are unique worldwide and the attempt to restrict nicotine would represent the first in global efforts to reduce deaths related to smoking.
In one scenario, the FDA estimates that the rate of smoking in the US UU as low as 1.4 percent by 2060, below 15 percent of adults who smoke now. The agency also estimates that approximately 5 million more people would drop cigarettes within a year of implementing the limits.
However, the greatest impact would come from preventing young people from becoming addicted.
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Limiting nicotine "could help prevent future generations of children experimenting with cigarettes from experimenting to addiction," said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's tobacco center.
Key to the FDA proposal: nicotine highly addictive, but not fatal. Instead, it is the burning of tobacco and other substances inhaled through tobacco causing cancer, heart disease and bronchitis. Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year, despite decades of anti-smoking measures that have pushed the smoking rate to new lows.
The agency first seeks comment on a number of issues, including possible unintended consequences, such as the creation of a black market for products with a higher nicotine content.
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The FDA gained authority to regulate ingredients in cigarettes and other tobacco products in 2009. But the regulatory efforts of the FDA have been hampered for years by the legal challenges of Big Tobacco companies.
Cigarette manufacturers have generally pledged to participate in nicotine discussions, often emphasizing the long and complicated nature of creating new regulations.
"Altria has already been preparing for any reasonable potential standard, and we plan to participate in every step of this process," said Altria, parent company of Marlboro. the manufacturer Philip Morris USA, in a statement.
Tobacco industry badyst Bonnie Herzog estimates that it will take 4 to 5 years before the FDA implements any changes, due to "the complexities and risks involved."
Anti-Smoking Activists applauded Thursday's action, but said the FDA should set a deadline to establish regulations.
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"Today's action is a first step, but it will only have an impact if the FDA develops and quickly implements a final regulation," said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Cigarettes low in nicotine. they are not a new idea and several companies, including Philip Morris, experimented with the sale of products in the USA. UU during the 1980s and 1990s, without much success. There are several techniques to eliminate nicotine, including chemical extraction and crossing plants.
The FDA has sponsored several recent studies that show that when smokers switch to very low nicotine cigarettes, they smoke less and are more likely to try to quit smoking. Research is considered essential to establish that smokers will not compensate by smoking more cigarettes or by inhaling more deeply if nicotine levels are low enough. That was sometimes the case of "light" and "low tar" cigarettes marketed in past decades. These products were prohibited as deceptive.
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The plan to restrict nicotine in cigarettes is part of a broader drive against smoking described by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. For smokers who can not or do not want to stop smoking, they conceive a new clbad of products reviewed by the FDA that deliver nicotine without the toxic byproducts of tobacco burning.
While some of those products may have similarities to electronic cigarettes, the FDA has not granted any permission from the company to market its product as a "reduced risk" alternative to cigarettes.
The FDA gained authority over e-cigarettes in 2016, but Gottlieb delayed a deadline for manufacturers to submit their products for review until 2022. He said the decision, strongly criticized by anti-tobacco groups, was necessary to give the FDA already the manufacturers more time to prepare.
It is not clear if electronic cigarettes, which heat liquid nicotine in the form of vapor, help smokers to quit. .
"The jury is still deliberating on the value of those products as alternatives," Gottlieb said, but added that there are opportunities for other products with lower potential risk.