FDA takes on nicotine to try curbing smoking

New proposed Food and Drug Administration rules could mark the biggest change to tobacco regulation since Congress mandated warning labels on cigarettes in 1970.

The proposals would require tobacco companies to reduce the nicotine content in smoking products. The FDA would not specify how much the nicotine content would have to be reduced other than to say, “significantly.”

“We’re looking to make the riskiest products, which are combustible cigarettes, less addictive,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Fox News.

Advances in tobacco plant genetic modification have allowed scientists to lower nicotine content, as have leeching techniques, not unlike coffee decaffeination.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. told Fox News that if approved, the new regulations will put tobacco companies to the test. 

“If you eliminate the nicotine, if you reduce the addictiveness of the product, the smoker will actually have a real free choice,” he said. “Phillip Morris International has been promoting itself as a company that wants to move current tobacco users from products that kill them to products that don’t kill them. We’ll find out if they mean it.”

Some question the potential effectiveness of the proposed changes, fearing that if nicotine is reduced significantly, long time adult smokers may seek black market alternatives to get their nicotine fix.

“They find that it helps them concentrate. It relaxes them,” said Dr. Sally Satel, a psychiatrist who has written extensive about addiction at the American Enterprise Institute. “These are the individuals who often have quite a bit of trouble quitting, which is why a safer way to get nicotine is a godsend for people like this.”

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