The Food and Drug Administration is moving to reduce nicotine content in cigarettes, but will their actions truly have the impact that Gottlieb and the FDA are anticipating?
The FDA’s Plan To Reduce Nictone Content In Cigarettes
Last Thursday, the FDA took the initial steps to reduce nicotine content in cigarettes in hopes that it will make the products less addictive. This initiated the regulatory process which Gottlieb, the FDA’s chief official, described as a “historic first step.”
Commissioner Scott Gottlieb revealed an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking,” which is the first step in what will inevitably be a highly difficult regulation effort to lower
nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive levels.
While this move can be seen as a step in the right direction for US regulation, the main issue lies with nicotine. We’ve shown in the past how the real addictive and damaging substances in cigarettes aren’t actually the nicotine, but rather the additive chemicals and tar contained in combustible cigarettes.
Targeting Lower Smoking Rates
The FDA’s notice was published to the Federal Register on Monday, which included data published in the New England Journal of Medicine claiming reduced nicotine levels in cigarettes could push the smoking rate down to 1.4 percent from the current 15 percent of adults in the United States.
These bold claims would see about eight million fewer tobacco-related deaths through the end of the century if the proposal has the desired effects— which Gottlieb termed “an undeniable public health benefit.” This research was FDA-funded analysis and was solely based on reducing nicotine levels to 0.4 milligrams per gram of tobacco filler.
The CDC reported in 2015 that 7 out of 10 adults cigarette smokers what to quit smoking. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, says that it’s because of nicotine despite research showing that it’s not that simple. Cutting the nicotine levels could be a step in the right direction, but there is so much much at play here.
Reducing Nicotine Content
FDA officials are seeking input through public comment for 90 days on what the maximum nicotine level in cigarettes should be. It will be very interested to hear what the public will say about nicotine limits and whether they should be implemented all at once, gradually or not at all. You can submit a comment here, though we recommend you read the rest of this article first.
According to officials, other issues that may arise from such regulation are the potential of black markets for illicit high-nicotine cigarettes. Moreover, how can this plan be sure that people won’t smoke more cigarettes in volume as a result of lower nicotine? It could just make the act of smoking more frequent, and based on our previously mentioned cigarette additive concerns, this could raise the addictiveness and health hazards of smokers in response. After the public suggestion period ends, officials will then decide if a formal proposal should be written.
The FDA and Gottlieb’s announcement last summer that the agency is looking to curb tobacco-related deaths, and would seek to develop a comprehensive plan on tobacco and nicotine reform. On a positive front, smoking is at an all-time low in the United States, and tobacco use among young people is also at historically low rates. This could be due to the wealth of information on the dangers of smoking and the aids available such as vaporizers to help with cessation. Despite the lowest historical rate of tobacco use, smoking still causes a staggering 480,000 annual deaths in the United States alone.
“It would be the most significant public health proposal we have seen from the U.S. government in the last 20 years,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.“While this issue has been discussed conceptually for years, this is the first time we have a government agency saying it is achievable, feasible and can be implemented in a way that doesn’t cause serious negative consequences,” Myers said.
Nicotine Isn’t The Problem
Nicotine gets unfairly victimized and shoulders all of the addiction and health blame, but they’ve got the wrong guy. It’s the system of delivery that is the issue, not the nicotine. Simply reducing nicotine content in cigarettes won’t drop the smoking rate in the way the FDA is claiming it will. Gottlieb, when discussing his comprehensive tobacco strategy last week, said he sees this as “a historic opportunity” to promote nicotine reduction. However, there are bigger issues that would prove more beneficial to the smoking rate – such as the regulation of chemical and additives in combustible cigarettes.
Despite it’s lack of scope, this is a positive step to move smokers from combustible cigarettes to products, such as vaporizers, that can provide nicotine without the health implications posed by burning tobacco.
The FDA also mentioned that it plans to look more into the role of flavors, such as menthol and cherry, play in the use of tobacco products. Cigar regulation is also on the docket, so don’t forget about e-cigars.
What do you think about the FDA’s plan to reduce nicotine content in cigarettes? Are the implications matching the promise? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook page!