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Can We Break Nicotine’s Powerful Draw?

By: Eric Weinberg

The Food and Drug Administration is working on reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes. If the agency canachieve this, 30 million smokers in the U.S. would walk into convenience stores and gas food marts to find cigars with such low amounts of nicotine that it would be hard to get their usual fix.

The announcement was made in June; the FDA was finally pushed to its limits by the dangerous addiction. Smoking takes the lives of 480,000 people every year through lung and mouth cancer, heart disease, and bone diseases. The FDA also decided to write up a full proposal and have it presented next May. Doctors and other experts hope to see an immediate drop of 95% in nicotine levels. This amount has been noted through studies as the level needed in order to help smokers kick their habit most efficiently.

Putting this idea into effect, though, could still be a few years away. The drop in nicotine levels would have to survive opposition from tobacco companies, many of which would eventually go bankrupt.

Smoking has not always been recognized as a dangerous habit. For many years, no research t proved a clear link between the habit and cancers and heart diseases. At first, many cigar companies advertised smoking as something healthy. It was not until 1964 that the U.S. Surgeon General showed how many heart and lung problems were caused by smoking.

The tobacco in cigarettes contains almost 7000 harmful chemicals, though only one is responsible for making smoking so addictive. It is called nicotine, and when inhaled, it causes a surge of adrenaline in the brain. This adrenaline increases the release of dopamine, a natural chemical in the body that causes a feeling of relaxation. This effect does not last long, causing many smokers to burn through many cigarettes every day.

Lowering the nicotine levels in cigarettes by enormous amounts or even completely cutting it out would not be as good as it seems. Studies have shown that if you lower the levels by 95%, smokers will begin to increase the number of cigarettes they smoke.

Tobacco control researchers who have supported the FDA announcement have also noted that this will be extremely hard on addicted smokers. Around 70% of all US smokers say that they would like to stop, though only one in ten of those people succeed.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has stated that this will not eliminate all 480,000 smoking-related deaths every year. There could be a creation of a black market where full-nicotine cigarettes will be sold, and unexpected outcomes could rise since many nicotine studies are imperfect due to dishonest participants.

Many long-time smokers, such as Mike Harrigan, have expressed their opinions as well. Mr. Harrigan stated, “It may help newer smokers, but it will hurt people who are used to a certain level of nicotine.” The reason for this is the formation of more dopamine receptors, which, when are no longer fueled can cause the opposite of their original effect and send smokers who have been forced to kick their habit into a low mental state.

Another once dependent five decade smoker Bruce Holaday has shared his experience with nicotine withdrawal. He attempted to quit over 100 times, all of which failed. His attempt last August caused sudden cravings and tremors, which lasted around 15 minutes. He described it as “an earthquake of desire and need.”

Thinking back on his first drag as a college freshman and the decision to stop more teenagers from doing this, Mr. Holaday said, “Without that nicotine rush, I would have probably walked away and never smoked again. It will be rough for smokers, but anything we can do to prevent a new generation from getting hooked is a good thing.”

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