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A Nicotine-Free Future will be Challenging

By: Vivona Xu

Smoking claims the lives of more than 480,000 smokers each year in the U.S. To reduce the health effects of addiction, the Food and Drug Administration said they would move towards drastically minimizing nicotine levels in cigarettes by June of 2023.

However, a sweeping decrease in nicotine could change the behaviors and mental states of 30 million smokers.

The FDA is planning on introducing a fully developed nicotine policy proposal next May. Addiction specialists encourage the agency for an immediate 95 percent reduction of nicotine levels.

It could be years before a nicotine policy can be taken into effect. Even after being put into action, a nicotine restriction would have to survive the opposition from millions of smokers and the tobacco industry.

There are many experiments on a large reduction of nicotine in cigarettes, but some scientists warn that the existing research is imperfect. A high number of participants in nicotine research cheat by smoking their own cigarettes beforehand.

Another result of low nicotine levels in cigarettes could be adults and children pairing vaping or nicotine gum with low-level tobacco cigarettes. These combinations are just as damaging as traditional cigarettes.

“What scares me is a national experiment with the very low nicotine cigarette that is done without some testing in the real world,” said Lynn T. Kozlowski, a tobacco researcher at the University at Buffalo who has contributed to four Surgeon General reports on smoking since 1981.

Nicotine is a very addictive substance as it relieves stress for a few hours in the head. The more someone smokes, it conditions their brain to crave more nicotine to feel relaxed. Soon, they get to a point where it will become extremely difficult to stop smoking.

The FDA has acknowledged that any move to lower nicotine in cigarettes would be enormously challenging to smokers. Fewer than one in ten adults who quit smoking succeed, which shows the limitation of possible solutions such as nicotine replacement therapy.

“When you get the nicotine in tobacco low enough, you just can’t get enough nicotine to maintain the dependence,” Dr. Eric Donny, a tobacco expert at Wake Forest University School of Medicine who has conducted experiments with low nicotine cigarettes, said.

Despite the various challenges of reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes, the outcome of succeeding will benefit the general health and wellbeing of smokers.

“Without that nicotine rush, I would have probably walked away and never smoked again,” said Bruce Holaday, a 69-year-old smoker who tried quitting 100 times before succeeding. “It will be rough for smokers, but anything we can do to prevent a new generation from getting hooked is a good thing.”


The US government’s call for deep nicotine reduction in cigarettes could save millions of lives – an expert who studies tobacco addiction explains (

Breaking Nicotine’s Powerful Draw - The New York Times (

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