The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the US Scott Gottlieb, MD today unveiled a proposal to reduce smoking levels in the US by lowering the amount of nicotine in cigarettes.

The public health benefits and the potential to save millions of lives as a result of reducing nicotine in cigarettes gives cause to today’s unprecedented move, according to Dr Gottlieb.

The FDA – which only got permission to regulate tobacco products in 2009 – wants,

“To lower nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels,” he said.

While details of potential implementation are scarce, one possible scenario suggests approximately five million additional adult smokers could quit smoking within one year  implementation.

The role played by second hand smoke in harming those who don’t smoke could swing the vote for e-cigarettes to take a more prominent position in the proposed change. A recent evidence-based report from the National Health Service (NHS) supported by Public Health England (PHE) said second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 cancer-causing chemicals, while second-hand vape has, “no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders.”

In reference to e-cigarettes, Gottlieb said,

“The agency’s regulation of both novel nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products will encourage the innovation of less harmful products. We must make it possible for current adult smokers who still seek nicotine to get it from alternative and less harmful sources.”

According to the FDA press release, the greatest impact of this proposed move could be felt on future generations, as smoking rates and tobacco-related deaths could drop significantly,

“…from the current 15 percent to as low as 1.4 percent. By the year 2100, the analysis estimates that more than 33 million people – mostly youth and young adults – would have avoided becoming regular smokers.” 

The FDA commissioner described today’s announcement as,

“a significant step in our efforts to confront nicotine addiction in combustible cigarettes.”

He adds, “This framework could result in more than eight million fewer tobacco-caused deaths through the end of the century.”

This bold proposal may be a milestone for the FDA but it is subject to standard bureaucracy and no doubt debate. The agency is now seeking comment on the plan from the American public.  Click here to read the announcement in full.