Plan to cut nicotine in cigarettes must be swiftly implemented
As part of the Administration's regulatory agenda, the Biden administration and the FDA committed to issuing a proposed rule by May 2023 to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels. This is a truly game-changing proposal that would accelerate declines in smoking and save millions of lives from cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. But these gains will only be realized with a full-throated commitment to finalizing and implementing this proposal.
There is no other single action our country can take that would prevent more young people from becoming addicted to tobacco or have a greater impact on reducing deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable, premature death in the United States, killing over 480,000 Americans ever year and causing nearly a third of all deaths from cancer and heart disease. This policy has the potential to dramatically reduce tobacco-caused death and disease, while also reducing health disparities caused by tobacco use.
Altogether, the FDA has estimated that such a policy would prevent over 33 million youth and young adults from becoming regular smokers this century, prompt 5 million smokers to quit within one year (rising to 13 million within 5 years) and save more than 8 million lives by the end of this century. No other action would do more to help achieve the goals of the Biden administration's Cancer Moonshot project to end cancer as we know it, as smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer deaths and causes more than a dozen types of cancer throughout the body.
The commitment is an important step forward, but it will only have an impact if the FDA swiftly develops and implements a final regulation. To have maximum impact, the FDA should require a reduction in nicotine levels in all combustible tobacco products, not just cigarettes, to prevent switching to other harmful products.
The proposal to reduce nicotine in cigarettes complements the FDA's new proposed rules to prohibit menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Both sets of actions are needed. Together, these actions will greatly reduce the appeal of cigarettes, especially to kids, and ensure these uniquely lethal products can no longer create or sustain addiction. These are precisely the types of actions Congress empowered the FDA to take when it passed the 2009 Tobacco Control Act, which authorized the FDA to set tobacco product standards to protect the public health, including reducing nicotine in cigarettes to any level other than zero.
Matthew L. Myers is president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids