For the first time, the federal government is proposing cutting the nicotine level in cigarettes so they aren't so addictive, the AP reports. US Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb on Friday directed the agency's staff to develop new regulations on nicotine. The FDA has had the power since 2009 to regulate nicotine levels but hasn't done so. Stocks of cigarette makers plunged after the announcement. Gottlieb also said the FDA is giving e-cigarette makers four more years to comply with a review of products already on the market. The agency needs to concentrate on nicotine regulation and not be distracted by the debate on whether e-cigarettes help smokers quit, he said. "A renewed focus on nicotine can help us to achieve a world where cigarettes no longer addict future generations of our kids," Gottlieb said in a speech to staff.
Tar and other substances inhaled through smoking make cigarettes deadly, but the nicotine in tobacco is what makes them addictive. Gottlieb said he has asked the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products to explore whether lowering nicotine could create a black market for higher nicotine products and what role e-cigarettes and other forms of nicotine delivery may play in reducing harm from smoking. Researchers praised the news; studies have found that reducing nicotine substantially—by around 90%—leads to smokers being less dependent on cigarettes and smoking fewer of them. Per CNN, Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, responded to the FDA announcement by saying any new rules must be "based on science and evidence" and "technically achievable." British American, owner of Reynolds American, said it is "well prepared" and looks forward to "a thorough process." Gottlieb also wants new rules to address flavored tobacco products and kids. (Read more nicotine stories.)