FDA Targets Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes, Shifts Focus to E-Cigarettes

September 8, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

August brought a new FDA proposal for traditional cigarettes, whose nicotine levels are said to be responsible for addiction. Continue below to find out more about the proposal.

While nicotine itself is not responsible for smoking-related illnesses, it keeps users hooked.

In August, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced a proposal to cut nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, according to a report from Reuters.

The announcement fuels the debate around whether e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. As Dentist’s Money Digest has previously reported, multiple studies have examined the links between e-cigarette use and gum and teeth damage. While companies that make these products tout them as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, other studies have suggested that e-cigarette use was just as harmful, if not more so, than regular cigarettes.

While it is not possible to reduce nicotine levels to zero, or to ban cigarettes outright, the proposed regulation of nicotine levels could help remove the addictive component in cigarettes. The announcement comes as the FDA considers shifting its focus to regulations that will entice more smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

“Nicotine itself is not responsible for the cancer, the lung disease and heart disease that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. “It's the other chemical compounds in tobacco and in the smoke created by setting tobacco on fire that directly cause illness and death.”

The FDA’s announcement is only the first step in the process of formally regulating nicotine levels in cigarettes. Before any measures can take effect, the public must be allowed to comment on the proposal. Input from industry stakeholders will also need to be considered.

“While there's still much research to be done on these products and the risks that they may pose, they may also present benefits that we must consider,” Gottlieb added.

The manufacturers of cigarettes have already begun to move toward greater e-cigarette production alongside other alternative nicotine delivery systems. This could help mitigate the damages to big tobacco’s bottom line, since, soon after the regulatory announcement was made, the world’s major tobacco companies lost around $26 billion in market value.

While this action is currently only underway in the U.S., experts expect regulators in European nations to take a similar regulatory stance on nicotine-containing products. For now, companies making e-cigarettes have four years to comply with a 2016 ruling giving the FDA oversight over those types of products, allowing e-cigarette manufacturers to continue to saturate the market without any oversight or regulation.

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