White House Proposes Reducing Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes, to Curb Addiction, Disease, and Death

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jun. 22 2022, Published 11:42 a.m. ET

Reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes
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From their environmental impact to carcinogenic health effects, there’s really nothing good about cigarettes (unless you ask the cigarette industry, which would point to its multi-billion dollar profits). Yet, cigarettes remain legal in nearly every country on Earth. This week, the U.S. government and the FDA are finally taking action to reduce the tobacco industry’s harm, with a proposal to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes.

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Should the Biden-Harris administration’s new rule proposal to lower nicotine in cigarettes become law, it would “benefit the population as a whole while also advancing health equity by addressing disparities associated with cigarette smoking, dependence, and cessation,” according to the government. Keep reading for the details on the White House’s plan to cut nicotine levels.

Lowering nicotine in cigarettes
Source: Getty Images
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The White House and the FDA want to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes.

As part of the White House’s Spring 2022 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory actions, which was published on Tuesday, June 21, the Biden-Harris administration stated intentions to mandate tobacco companies to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products (ones that are consumed by fire, meaning electronic cigarettes would be exempt), as per the FDA.

The rule would require the industry to reduce nicotine levels in these products to “minimally or nonaddictive levels,” as per The Washington Post.

According to the FDA, every year, smoking-attributed diseases prematurely kill 480,000 people in the U.S. The agency stated that the proposal’s goal is to reduce nicotine use, addiction, and death, primarily amongst youth.

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Can nicotine cause cancer? The effects of nicotine are primarily addiction.

Nicotine is the addictive compound in cigarettes, and it’s what makes quitting smoking so difficult. A number of other components of cigarettes are what can cause cancer, including carcinogenic ingredients like benzene, aromatic amines, N-nitrosamines, aldehydes, 1,3-butadiene, and ethylene, as per a CDC study.

So even though nicotine is far from the most toxic component of a cigarette, reducing nicotine levels in these products would make quitting them much easier.

“Nicotine is powerfully addictive,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD said in a statement.

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“Making cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products minimally addictive or non-addictive would help save lives,” he continued. “Lowering nicotine levels to minimally addictive or non-addictive levels would decrease the likelihood that future generations of young people become addicted to cigarettes and help more currently addicted smokers to quit.”

FDA nicotine reduction in cigarettes
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Reducing nicotine in cigarettes would make quitting easier, and prevent disease and death.

If this rule truly becomes a law, it could have a number of positive effects across the country. It would help people currently addicted to cigarettes wean themselves off of them, and it would prevent new and potential cigarette smokers from becoming addicted to cigarettes; subsequently, these actions would prevent the nicotine-related illnesses and deaths that cigarette smokers face.

According to the CDC, smoking cigarettes causes a number of serious illnesses, including cancer, various lung diseases, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, COPD, and more.

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Lowering nicotine levels would also benefit the environment.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report detailing the environmental effects of the tobacco industry. According to the agency, cigarettes are one of the most-littered items around the world, with about 4.5 trillion cigarette filters entering the environment annually.

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Additionally, the tobacco industry is responsible for 600 million trees, 22 billion tonnes of water, 200,000 hectares of land, and 84 million tonnes of CO2, as well as immense deforestation, toxic waste dumping, and so many more negative environmental impacts, the WHO found.

The government will need to jump through many hoops to make this new rule a reality — and Big Tobacco is undoubtedly prepared to do everything in its power to set those hoops as high as possible.

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