US unveils plans to limit nicotine levels in cigarettes

23 Jun 2022, 02:22

  DF News Desk

Photo: via DW.

US President Joe Biden's administration plans to propose a rule to establish a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes and other finished tobacco products in an attempt to make them less addictive, the White House Budget Office announced on Tuesday, reported DW, quoting news agencies AFP and Reuters.

The rule, expected in May 2023, would be designed with the goal of making it easier for tobacco users to quit and help prevent youth from becoming regular smokers.

The initiative requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop and then publish a rule, which will likely be contested by industry.

The process is expected to take several years and could be delayed or derailed by litigation, or reversed by a future administration sympathetic to the tobacco lobby.

Dangerous addiction

"Nicotine is powerfully addictive," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said. "Making cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products minimally addictive or nonaddictive would help save lives."

The FDA funded a randomized trial published in 2018 that found "reduced-nicotine cigarettes versus standard-nicotine cigarettes reduced nicotine exposure and dependence and the number of cigarettes smoked."

Another FDA-funded study found that, if a nicotine reduction policy were enacted in 2020, it could result in more than 33 million people not becoming regular smokers, and prevent more than 8 million deaths from tobacco-related illnesses by 2100.

The tobacco industry rejects these studies and says people would in fact smoke more.

But tobacco-control groups welcomed the Biden administration's plan. "The American Lung Association is pleased to hear that a proposal is coming to reduce the levels of addictive nicotine in cigarettes," said the group's CEO Harold Wimmer.

"Reducing nicotine to nonaddictive levels in cigarettes is an important step forward for public health, and we urge FDA to extend this proposal to include all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes," he added.

Smoking kills

In addition to nicotine, tobacco products also contain several harmful chemicals, many of which may cause cancer.

The proposal comes as the Biden administration doubles down on fighting cancer-related deaths. Earlier this year, the government announced plans to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years.

Though smoking is less prevalent in the United States than in Europe, and has been declining for years, it is still responsible for 480,000 deaths a year in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than 7,300 nonsmokers die each year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.

The current smoking rate in the USA is 12.5% of adults, the FDA says.

In April, the FDA issued a long-awaited proposal to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, seen as a major victory for anti-smoking advocates.