FDA takes 'pivotal step' to reduce smoking rates, deaths

FDA takes 'pivotal step' to reduce smoking rates, deaths

U.S. regulators Thursday opened the door to slashing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes in order to make them less addictive, a move that could mean millions fewer smokers in the years to come.

Tobacco executives from Altria and R.J. Reynolds expressed interest in the FDA proposal and vowed to work closely with the agency on what is expected to be a process lasting several years. The shift could reduce the current USA smoking rate from 15 percent to as low as 1.4 percent, the FDA said, and prevent 8 million tobacco-related deaths by the end of the century.

The idea of reducing nicotine to non-addictive or "minimally addictive" levels is the "cornerstone" of a comprehensive tobacco control plan announced in July by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

"Today's milestone places us on the road to achieving one of the biggest public health victories by saving millions of lives", Gottlieb said, adding that he had asked for input about the potential, unforeseen consequences of the rule change as part of the process, NBC News reported.

By 2100, the plan would prevent 33 million people who are now children or young adults from ever taking up tobacco, saving 8 million lives.

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Tobacco kills more than 480,000 Americans each year and costs $300 billion a year in health care.

"Tobacco use causes a tremendous toll of death and disease every year and these effects are ultimately the result of addiction to the nicotine contained in combustible cigarettes, leading to repeated exposure to toxicants from such cigarettes", the agency said in the notice.

"It would be the most significant public health proposal we have seen from the USA government in the last 20 years", he said. Gottlieb said in the statement. "In order to successfully address cigarette addiction, we must make it possible for current adult smokers who still seek nicotine to get it from alternative and less harmful sources". Would smokers compensate for the loss of nicotine by smoking more cigarettes?

"It is critical that the FDA move as quickly as possible to turn this plan into reality", said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The FDA will make two additional announcements about proposed tobacco rules, including ones related to flavors in cigarettes and another on so-called premium cigars.

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