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FDA takes fresh step towards curbing U.S. nicotine addiction


Gottlieb outlined a plan "to explore a product standard" applicable to all cigarettes that would lower nicotine content to levels below those likely to induce dependence. Federal health officials believe the upcoming regulations will help about five million people to quit smoking within a year of the change.

The action follows his announcement last summer that the agency would pursue a comprehensive plan on tobacco and nicotine regulations in an effort to avoid millions of tobacco-related deaths.

In doing so, Gottlieb has effectively initiated a public debate on exactly what level of nicotine would be sufficient to protect the public's health, as well as whether or not this plan should be carried out all at once or gradually.

The FDA first announced in July that it was planning to start a public dialogue about writing such a rule. That plan marked a major shift created to give adult smokers a wider range of alternatives, including potentially less harmful e-cigarettes.

And it seems safe to say that the tobacco industry probably wields substantially more influence over political bodies than does the peanut industry. And there have been commercial versions - a company called Vector Tobacco produced a low-nicotine-content cigarette called Quest from 2002 to 2010, according to Forbes.

The agency published its formal notice online Thursday to begin regulating nicotine in what's expected to be a multi-year process littered with potential obstacles.

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Altria Group, the company formerly known as Philip Morris and maker of Marlboro cigarettes, downplayed the significance of the announcement.

But the hope is that the new proposed rule - whenever it actually comes into effect - will play into a larger picture that helps reduce addiction risks broadly and close disparity gaps. Accelerating the decline of smoking in the USA will probably weigh on sales, but cigarette makers have already been racing to find new moneymakers.

Some studies, including one by the Royal College of Physicians, have claimed e-cigs and vaporizers are up to 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. For example, it took a 12-year comment period for the FDA to decide the minimum percentage of peanuts required for peanut butter to be called 'peanut butter'. 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.

However, reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes is legally and scientifically possible.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an antismoking group, said the move will have "enormous significance" - if the agency moves quickly through the process of developing and adopting a final rule.

"Such a policy could only have viability if there were viable non-combustion alternatives for smokers, something the FDA has been impeding rather than facilitating to date", said David Sweanor, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa and the author of several electronic-cigarette studies.

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