Federal health officials took the first step Thursday to drastically cut nicotine levels in cigarettes so they aren’t addictive.
The Food and Drug Administration estimated that its sweeping anti-smoking plan, first announced last summer, could push the U.S. smoking rate to 1.4 percent. Now about 15 percent of U.S. adults smoke.
FDA regulators estimate about 5 million more people would quit cigarettes within one year of new nicotine limits. Currently there are no limits. Under law, the FDA can regulate nicotine although it cannot remove it completely.
“Our estimates underscore the tremendous opportunity to save so many lives if we come together and forge a new path forward to combat the overwhelming disease and death caused by cigarettes,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
Nicotine is highly addictive, but it is not deadly by itself. It’s the burning tobacco and other substances inhaled through smoking that cause cancer, heart disease and bronchitis. Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, even though smoking rates have been declining for decades.