President Joe Biden's administration is set to announce a new policy requiring cigarette producers to reduce nicotine to non-addictive levels, US media reported Tuesday - a move that would deal a powerful blow to the tobacco industry.
If successful, the policy could save millions of lives by the end of the century, and shape a future where cigarettes are no longer responsible for addiction and debilitating disease.
The initiative could be announced as soon as Tuesday, the Washington Post said, quoting a person familiar with the matter.
It would require the Food and Drug Administration to develop and then publish a rule, which could then be contested by industry, added the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the issue.
The entire effort is expected to take several years and could be delayed or derailed by litigation, or reversed by a future administration unsympathetic to its aims.
Nicotine is the "feel good" chemical that hooks millions to tobacco products. Thousands of other chemicals contained in tobacco and its smoke are responsible for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and more.
Though smoking is less prevalent in the United States than Europe and has been declining for years, it is still responsible for 480,000 deaths a year in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some 13.7% of all US adults are current cigarette smokers, according to CDC data.
Reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes has been a topic under discussion for years among US authorities.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in 2017 announced he wanted to move forward on the issue, and funded a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018 that found "reduced-nicotine cigarettes versus standard-nicotine cigarettes reduced nicotine exposure and dependence and the number of cigarettes smoked".
The FDA found that if the policy were enacted in 2020, it would prevent eight million premature deaths from tobacco by 2100.
The tobacco industry rejects the findings and says people would in fact smoke more.
Biden has made a "cancer moonshot" a centrepiece of his agenda and the nicotine-reduction policy would fit within its goals, at a minimal cost.
The total economic cost of smoking is more than $300 billion a year, according to the CDC, including more than $225 billion in direct medical care for adults, and more than $156 billion in lost productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke.
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