FDA wants to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes

pharmafile | July 31, 2017 | News story | Medical Communications, Sales and Marketing biotech, drugs, healthcare, pharma, pharmaceutical, smoke, tobacco 

The FDA has reputation worldwide as being a standard bearer when it comes to regulating the safety of products and yet it finds itself curiously hamstrung in its interactions with the tobacco industry.

As nations around the world begin to find innovative means of curbing numbers of smokers, particularly in terms of plain packaging, the FDA cannot have the same impact in the US due to the first amendment protecting advertising rights.

The changes to enforce plain packaging on tobacco products saw the number of smokers fall by 108,228 in Australia, over a three year period. This saw the implementation of this policy in the UK, where it is estimated that numbers may fall by 300,000 over a similar period of time.

Without this possibility, the FDA has looked at the impact it can have within its own means and has turned to the levels of nicotine in the tobacco product. The plan is to reduce levels of nicotine down to amounts where it would be ‘non-addictive’, this could see levels of the drug reduced by 95%.

It would mean that, in the first place, becoming addicted to smoking would be far more difficult – as levels would be much reduced for first-time smokers, potentially discouraging them from trying cigarettes again. On the other side, to those already addicted, it means they would have to smoke far more cigarettes to maintain the same level of nicotine. It is thought that smoking so many cigarettes would become a deterrent of itself, in terms of cost and the harsh nature of smoking to such a degree.

“The overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes – the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use. Envisioning a world where cigarettes would no longer create or sustain addiction, and where adults who still need or want nicotine could get it from alternative and less harmful sources, needs to be the cornerstone of our efforts – and we believe it’s vital that we pursue this common ground.”

The announcement caused big tobacco firm shares to tank and there are those who have dismissed the nature of the threat from the FDA. It comes alongside another announcement allowing e-Cigarettes to have longer to apply for their products to be approved by the FDA.

The suggestion being that the FDA now prefers the method of pushing smokers towards the less damaging e-Cigarette market whilst also providing a warning to the tobacco companies. The drop in share price wiped approximately $50 billion from the tobacco market and investor confidence that the industry can sustain itself in the long-term will not have been boosted by the announcement.

Though the FDA may not be able to lead the way in terms of packaging, the message that people should be pushed towards less harmful products is a huge step in such a market as the US. The next step will be for the FDA to begin a public dialogue about the possibility of lowering nicotine levels.

Ben Hargreaves

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