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Move afoot in the US to slash nicotine levels

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The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a giant leap towards reducing nicotine in cigarettes in order to make them less addictive.

Described as a “historic first step” by the FDA itself, the agency has opened a regulatory process to cut nicotine levels in cigarettes.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said new rules would be in place to make the nicotine levels in cigarettes minimally addictive and even non-addictive.

The FDA notice was published in the Federal Registrar and included new data (which was FDA-funded) published in the New England Journal of Medicine, based on an intended policy outcome.

While the Commissioner flagged that the process would be a long one, he said it would result in an “undeniable public health benefit”.

The FDA analysis found that by reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes, the smoking rate in adults could fall from the current 15 per cent to just 1.4 per cent.

The data showed that such a result would also mean 8 million fewer tobacco related deaths across America by the end of the century.

The plan is to cut nicotine levels to 0.4 milligrams per gram of tobacco filler.

The Nicotine Notice is still open for public comment and the FDA is after views on what the maximum nicotine level in cigarettes should be.

It also wants to know if a new limit should be introduced gradually or all in one go – or not at all.

The potential for illicit trade in high-nicotine cigarettes is also being considered, as is whether addicted smokers would smoke more low- nicotine cigarettes in order to get their fix.

In the US, the 2009 Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco, but not to ban it.

CHRIS JOHNSON

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