In an attempt to make cigarettes less addictive, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed lowering nicotine levels. Furthermore, the FDA has suggested improving the safety of nicotine products such as gums and patches.
Additionally, the FDA is delaying implementation of last year’s rules regarding cigars and e-cigarettes, which are on the market until 2021 and 2022, respectively. This will ensure regulatory standards are appropriate.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb explained, “We want to make sure those products, particularly the e-cigarettes, go through an appropriate set of regulatory dates to make sure they’re safe, make sure they are meeting standards.”
The FDA says that stricter rules need to be put in place regarding products that may appear “kid-friendly,” such as flavored e-cigarettes.
“Addressing the detrimental role of flavors, including menthol, in the initiation of tobacco use will be a very significant step in reducing tobacco use among our youth. Not only are flavors attractive to youth, but are also harmful to lung health,” said Patricia Folan, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Tobacco Control.
One of the main goals of the FDA is to ensure that teens do not get hooked on tobacco and nicotine products in the first place, as smoking is the number one leading cause of preventable disease and death.
But the American Lung Association is concerned that the delay by the FDA is putting teens at risk. Erika Sward of the American Lung Association explained, “What we are seeing here is that FDA, under the framing of a new approach, is weakening public-health protection for e-cigarettes and cigars, and they are punting protection for kids down the road for five years.”
The FDA has proposed lowering nicotine to nonaddictive levels, and by doing so it “can take a more balanced approach to some of the newer innovations that might have the potential to help current combustible cigarette smokers transition off combustible cigarettes and onto products that might be less harmful,” said Gottlieb.
Although nicotine isn’t the culprit behind lung cancer and other diseases associated with smoking, it is the element that causes people to become addicted to cigarettes, thus it encourages exposure to toxins and chemicals that can contribute to disease.
Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, explained, “The vision Gottlieb painted in its entirety is the most comprehensive approach to reducing the death and disease from cigarette smoking that we have seen from the FDA. The risk is that he is never permitted to go forward with the bold components designed to reduce cigarette use, while e-cigarettes and cigars remain on the market.”
Unfortunately, any plan set out by the FDA to change the composition of cigarettes will be a lengthy process. Furthermore, the FDA must also consider the fact that individuals may smoke more and inhale more deeply to get the same level of nicotine to which they are accustomed.
There are also concerns that a black market in high-nicotine cigarettes may emerge.