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Study: Nearly half of Americans would support reducing nicotine if and when the FDA acts on it

January 18, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Despite the well-documented harm from tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases, 46 million Americans smoke. Each year, more than 400,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases, while cigarettes addict 1,200 new "replacement" smokers each day.

A study released online by the American Journal of Public Health shows strong public support – nearly 50 percent -- for a potential federal mandate to reduce nicotine content in cigarettes. Under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to reduce nicotine levels – but not to zero. While the FDA has not yet acted on this authority, the new data provides a glimpse into public sentiment around the issue.

The study presents nationally representative data from a June 2010 survey and found:

  • Nearly half (46.%) of U.S. adults agreed the FDA should reduce levels of nicotine in cigarettes. Only 16.5% disagreed and another 37.8% neither agreed nor disagreed or had no opinion.
  • Smokers who were interested in quitting are more likely to support regulation than smokers who are not thinking of quitting.
  • African Americans, Hispanics, and those with lower education levels were especially supportive of nicotine reduction.

Nicotine reduction in cigarettes to non-addictive levels has been a controversial topic in tobacco control; however, it is within the authority of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since it was granted regulatory authority over tobacco products in 2009.

"This data could be helpful to FDA in gauging public sentiment and tailoring its messaging if the agency chooses to move forward with such regulation," said Jennifer Pearson, PhD, MPH, Research Investigator for the Schroeder Institute and lead author of the study.

Public health experts and researchers at the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy suggest that decreasing nicotine in cigarettes could not only reduce youth smoking uptake, but also may render cigarettes easier to quit. Both steps could help curb the toll of tobacco-related disease, and ultimately save lives.

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