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FDA to Cut Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

April 23, 2018
Published in: General, Heart, Stroke

hand holding a cigarette

Smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and firearm-related incidents combined. Because of this, the FDA is working to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, the portion that causes the smoker to become addicted. What are the real health risks of smoking, and why is the legislation being processed now?

An Overview of Smoking

An estimated 37.8 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers die ten years earlier than nonsmokers. Smoking is the main risk factor associated with 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths. Even more shockingly, more women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.

Several health risks arise with smokers besides a higher risk for death. Smokers are:
  • 2-4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease
  • 2-4 times more likely to have a stroke
  • More likely to experience diminished overall health that may cause absences from work and higher healthcare costs

Even with all of these serious risks, why do people smoke? Most people begin smoking when they are teens. People who have friends and family who smoke are much more likely to start smoking themselves. Some teens say they "just wanted to try it" or they thought it was "cool" to smoke. Anyone who starts to smoke can quickly become addicted to nicotine. However, the younger you are when you begin to smoke, the more likely you are to become addicted to nicotine.

How Has Nicotine in Cigarettes Been Formulated Before?

In general, the more nicotine there is in a cigarette, the more addictive smoking will be. Cigarettes contain over a hundred harmful chemicals. While nicotine may not be as harmful as the other chemicals, it is the component that causes addiction. The average amount of nicotine in a cigarette is 12 milligrams. However, most cigarettes fall between a range of 8 mg and 20 mg. A “light” amount of nicotine in cigarettes is considered 6 milligrams or less. Regardless of the exact amount of nicotine, cigarettes that are on the market now can be highly addictive. In fact, scientists believe that smoking just a few cigarettes can be enough to trigger addiction.

The New Nicotine Rules

The Federal Drug and Alcohol Administration (FDA) has begun a public dialogue about decreasing nicotine in cigarettes and how this could benefit public health. In March 2018, FDA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking public comment for consideration in lowering nicotine amounts to a minimal or non-addictive level. Reducing nicotine in cigarettes to a minimally or non-addictive level, could decrease the likelihood that future generations become addicted to cigarettes and help addicted smokers quit. Through this legislation, the FDA seeks to find a balance between regulation and encouraging the development of innovative tobacco products. Finding this balance will help save lives but also keep the tobacco industry afloat.