WASHINGTON • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will explore cutting the level of nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, a radical step that would reshape the US$130 billion (S$175 billion) tobacco industry in the United States and potentially encourage millions of people to quit smoking.
The move, announced last Friday, would represent one of the most sweeping federal efforts to reduce smoking since Congress required cigarette packages to carry health warnings in 1965. It follows other moves by President Donald Trump's FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb to try and deal with the high cost of prescription drugs and opioid addiction, two issues not directly within the agency's traditional mandate.
An administration official, however, said the White House supports the move, and disagreed that it was a break from Mr Trump's anti-regulation agenda.
The FDA's move is likely to set off a lobbying fight in Washington, even as it pushes the industry to speed up the development of new products that rely less on burning tobacco and more on potentially lower-risk technologies like vaping.
"The overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes - the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users," Mr Gottlieb said in a statement announcing the move.
"Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use."
Mr Gottlieb also said regulators will look at banning menthol and flavoured products because of their potential for attracting young people.
He also said regulators will look at banning menthol and flavoured products because of their potential for attracting young people. In a briefing last Friday, he called nicotine both the "problem" and "ultimately, the solution".
Mr Gottlieb also said the agency needed more time to get the regulations in place to properly oversee newer tobacco products like e-cigarettes while at the same time cutting the addictive nicotine in traditional cigarettes.
The FDA "must also recognise potential for innovation to lead to less harmful products", he said.
"I've pledged a deep commitment to taking aggressive steps to address the epidemic of addiction to opioids," Mr Gottlieb said. "I view our opportunity to confront addiction to nicotine with the same obligation," he said.