"Our estimates underscore the tremendous opportunity to save so many lives if we come together and forge a new path forward to combat the overwhelming disease and death caused by cigarettes", FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
Federal health officials took the first step Thursday to slash levels of addictive nicotine in cigarettes, an unprecedented move created to help smokers quit and prevent future generations from getting hooked.
The move would be a big blow to Big Tobacco, which has successfully fought off attempts to regulate how cigarettes are formulated. In trials, people instructed to exclusively smoke very low nicotine cigarettes smoked fewer per day, showed less evidence of the kinds of physiological harms produced by cigarette smoking, and were more likely to try to quit after the trial was over.
The FDA hasn't yet decided exactly how much it will cut nicotine or how quickly.
"The policy would mandate an absolute reduction in nicotine to levels so low that there would not be enough nicotine available in cigarette tobacco for smokers to sustain addiction", something they note is backed up by multiple studies.
Although the effort announced Thursday is an advance notice of proposed rulemaking - the first step in the creation of a new regulation - it represents the FDA's first effort to dictate what can and cannot be included in a cigarette, according to former Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., who championed anti-smoking policies during his decades in Congress.
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Police and school officials had resisted the release, saying it was evidence in an active investigation. John Bostain, an independent police trainer, reviewed the video at the request of The Associated Press.
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On Twitter, Gottlieb called the FDA's move "a historic first step" to make cigarettes minimally addictive or nonaddictive. Those products must either have the same characteristics as those marketed on/before February 15, 2007, or have different characteristics but do not raise different questions of public health.
"It belongs to he U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and aims at promoting and protecting public health through the regulation and the supervision of various products among which tobacco products since 2009". He added that no regulatory agency anywhere in the world has seriously proposed reducing nicotine in cigarettes.
"It is feasible that the end user may react to the decrease in the addictive chemical nicotine by smoking more".
"If this scenario were implemented, this analysis suggests that approximately 5 million additional adult smokers could quit smoking within one year of implementation", Gottlieb said. However, at around the same time the survey was conducted, e-cigarette use among high school students was jumping from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015, making the products the most commonly used tobacco product by young people in the U.S.
"The idea of gradually reducing the addictive ingredient of cigarettes, nicotine, looks attractive on the surface", Robert West, a professor of health psychology at University College London, told the Guardian at the time.
"We believe the public health benefits and the potential to save millions of lives, both in the near and long term, support this effort", he said. This is a pivotal part of our overall public health approach.