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Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration followed up on proposed tobacco regulations it made last summer. The new announcement, known as an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), has the potential to decrease the number of cigarette smokers from 40 million to 35 million within a year and prevent an additional 33 million from becoming regular smokers.
In his statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency is set “to explore a product standard to lower nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels. This new regulatory step advances a comprehensive policy framework that we believe could help avoid millions of tobacco-related deaths across the country.”
Greater public awareness about the inherent health risks caused by cigarettes has curbed the number of smokers in the U.S. over the last several decades, though smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the country.
Cigarette Smoking Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lays out the most recent cigarette smoking statistics, which include some of the following:
- Cigarette smoking accounts for more almost 500,000 deaths a year, nearly 1 in every 5 deaths
- More than 16 million Americans live with a smoking related disease
- 15 out of 100 adults in the U.S. were considered “smokers” in 2016, about 15.5 percent of the population
- Overall, tobacco use accounts for around $300 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity
Anyone that has quit smoking cigarettes knows how difficult it is to beat nicotine addiction. Painful withdrawal symptoms can last for several days and once the physical addiction runs it’s course, people still have to overcome the cravings brought about by habit and psychological addiction.
Nicotine in Cigarettes
Most cigarettes on the market contain 1.1 to 1.7 milligrams of nicotine and have a 30 percent addiction rate.
If the FDA’s proposed regulations go into effect, the amount of nicotine will be reduced to 0.3 – 0.5 milligrams per cigarette.
Some experts are concerned that a sudden nicotine reduction will result in a black market of high-content nicotine cigarettes or perhaps smokers will increase the number of cigarettes they consume daily. There are even fears of smokers inhaling cigarette smoke more deeply to compensate for the lack nicotine.
So far however, the proposed regulations do have a start date and researchers at the FDA believe there might be ways to prevent too many negative outcomes from the nicotine reduction measures.
As expected, anti-smoking advocates have applauded the FDA proposals. “The announcement…is potentially the most significant public health step the Food and Drug Administration has taken in decades,” Matthew Myers, head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in an interview with NPR.
Myers also said, “The benefits laid in this proposal are of such an extraordinary nature that it compels rapid action. It is a public health urgency to move forward rapidly.”
For their part, U.S. tobacco companies have made little noise other than to say they will comply with any government regulation put into action.
Whether or not the tobacco industry remains quiet is yet to be seen, but the FDA’s research is broadening, looking at whether flavoring, such as menthol, increases the likelihood of addiction.
The new nicotine-reduction measures, if implemented, are projected to cut the population of smokers in the U.S. from 15 percent to around 2 percent.