WASHINGTON — Federal health officials took the first step Thursday to drastically cut nicotine levels in cigarettes so they aren’t addictive. The Food and Drug Administration estimated that its sweeping anti-smoking plan, first announced last summer, could push the U.S. smoking rate to 1.4 percent. Now.
FDA regulators estimate about 5 million more people would quit cigarettes within one year of new nicotine limits. Currently there are no limits. Under law, the FDA can regulate nicotine although it cannot remove it completely.
“Our estimates underscore the tremendous opportunity to save so many lives if we come together and forge a new path forward to combat the overwhelming disease and death caused by cigarettes,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
He says the United States is “at a crossroads when it comes to addressing nicotine addiction and smoking in this country.”
Nicotine is highly addictive, but it is not deadly by itself. It’s the burning tobacco and other substances inhaled through smoking that cause cancer, heart disease and bronchitis. Smoking kills 480,000 people in the U.S. each year — equivalent to nearly one in five deaths — even thoughhave been declining for decades.
The agency published its formal notice online Thursday to begin regulating nicotine in what’s expected to be a multi-year process littered with potential obstacles. The FDA is seeking outside comment on a number of issues, including what nicotine levels should be permitted and whether the change should be implemented gradually or all at once.
The FDA gained authority to regulate ingredients inand other tobacco products in 2009. But FDA’s regulatory efforts have been hampered for years by legal challenges by Big Tobacco companies.