FDA takes 'historic' step to lower nicotine in cigarettes

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The FDA does not have the authority to ban tobacco-based products, but since it was given some powers by Congress in 2009, it has moved gradually to impose some limits of tobacco sales and marketing.

Tobacco executives from Altria and R.J. Reynolds expressed interest in the FDA proposal and vowed to work closely with the agency on what is expected to be a process lasting several years. Additionally, the current smoking rate of 15% could drop as low as 1.4% and more than 8 million tobacco-related deaths could be avoided through the end of the century, according to the statement.

"Despite years of aggressive efforts to tackle the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, tobacco use - largely cigarette smoking - still kills more than 480,000 Americans every single year", Scott Gottlieb, MD, commissioner of the FDA, said in the statement.

"When I returned to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration previous year, it was immediately clear that tackling tobacco use - and cigarette smoking in particular - would be one of the most important actions I could take to advance public health", the statement said.

Cutting nicotine to 0.5 milligram or less could help about 5 million adults smokers to quit within one year and prevent more than 33 million people from becoming regular smokers by the year 2100.

"It would be the most significant public health proposal we have seen from the USA government in the last 20 years", Myers said.

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The report ranks Milwaukee County at No. 71 of the state's 72 counties for both its health outcomes and health factors . In DeSoto, for instance, 7 percent of white births had a low birthweight while the rate was 13 for black births.

The agency cited research that could support reducing levels of nicotine to 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams per cigarette.

Thursday's action follows Gottlieb's announcement last summer that the agency would pursue a comprehensive plan on tobacco and nicotine regulation in an effort to avert millions of tobacco-related deaths. "What unintended consequences - such as the potential for illicit trade or for addicted smokers to compensate for lower nicotine by smoking more - might occur as a result?"

The FDA first announced in July that it was planning to start a public dialogue about writing such a rule.

"We're interested in public input on critical questions such as: what potential maximum nicotine level would be appropriate for the protection of public health?"

An additional wave of rule making will explore the role that premium cigars and flavors, including menthol, play in tobacco use.

Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, warned of the dangers of taking it too slow.

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