Nicotine levels in cigarettes could see a significant reduction under regulatory options being considered by the Food and Drug Administration.
Cigarettes “are the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half all long-term users,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement announcing the effort.
The agency is seeking comment on a proposed regulation regarding “a potential maximum nicotine level that would be appropriate for the protection of public health, in light of scientific evidence about the addictive properties of nicotine in cigarettes.” An advance notice of proposed rule making was posted online March 15 and is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on March 16.
The FDA also is seeking comments on a number of other areas to help inform potential regulatory action down the road, including whether a new standard for lower nicotine levels should be implemented at once or whether a phased-in approach should be taken; whether FDA should specify a method for manufacturers to use in order to detect nicotine levels in their products; and whether the proposed lower level is technically achievable.
The agency also is seeking comment on potential unintended effects of lowering the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, such as turning to other combustible tobacco products such as cigars in conjunction with or as a replacement for cigarette use; increasing the number of cigarettes smoked, or seeking comparable nicotine from noncombustible tobacco sources.
At this time, FDA is not suggesting what the target might be on a specific nicotine level. While the advanced notice asks specifically about the “merits of nicotine levels like 0.3, 0.4, and 0.5 mg nicotine/g of tobacco filler,” it is not suggesting that this is the range being considered.
“Not to prejudge any possible proposed rule that we would do or any possible level, that is the purpose of an advanced proposed rule making, but we share all the science that we are aware of, and we characterize the studies that have been done to date in trying to find out what that right level is,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, said during a March 15 press call.
He said that the FDA aiming to make sure the level is low enough that it cannot be compensated for by smoking more or inhaling deeper and holding the breath in longer, much like how smokers compensated when they smoked “light” cigarettes in the unregulated market.