8 Million Tobacco Deaths Could Be Avoided by Slashing Nicotine

  • FDA releases initial estimates on effects of upcoming policy
  • Agency to also examine use of flavors in tobacco products

Why It's Getting More Difficult to Be a Smoker

Reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes to nonaddictive levels could prevent as many as 8 million tobacco-related deaths and keep 30 million people from becoming regular smokers this century, according to new estimates from the Food and Drug Administration.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb revealed the initial estimates on Thursday during a tobacco discussion at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Just imagine the impact this policy could have on treatment costs,” Gottlieb said. “Currently, we spend about $300 billion each and every year on the direct and indirect costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses. In a world where cigarettes were minimally or nonaddictive, the reduction in those overall costs would be enormous.”

Gottlieb said in July that the FDA wants to cut nicotine in cigarettes to nonaddictive levels. At the time, he also said that the agency would push back by five years to 2022 a deadline for electronic-cigarette companies to submit applications to the FDA, and would examine banning flavors in products, including menthol.

The commissioner said Thursday the agency will examine whether flavors entice young people to start using tobacco, as well as whether they help adult cigarette smokers switch to potentially less harmful tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes. The FDA will ask for public input on the flavor issue, as well as what levels of nicotine are nonaddictive, and whether reducing levels will create a black market for higher-nicotine cigarettes, Gottlieb said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 36.5 million adult smokers in the U.S. Cigarette smoke is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the country, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, according to CDC.

The FDA will also expand a campaign educating young people on the dangers of tobacco products. The campaign, called “The Real Cost,” will for the first time specifically target youth use of e-cigarettes, Gottlieb said.

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