(WXMI) — The FDA is considering requiring tobacco companies to lower added nicotine in cigarettes to levels that are not addictive. At the same time, the agency is facing an April 29 deadline to decide whether or not to outright ban menthol cigarettes.
“It would be historic, it would be groundbreaking and it would save millions and millions of lives,” said Erika Sward, assistant vice president of national advocacy with the American Lung Association. “Reducing nicotine levels is a huge opportunity to help millions of American smokers end their addiction once and for all.”
Nicotine is the primary addictive substance in cigarettes, which are linked to 480,000 yearly American deaths, according to the FDA. Sward says lowering nicotine levels would also cut down on the number of kids who experiment with tobacco and get addicted, which about 36,000 Americans are, Sward says.
Meanwhile, in 2011, an independent panel commissioned by the FDA to study the effects of menthol cigarettes on society recommended then and still recommends now the outright banning of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace. It’s a health issue, and its also a race issue, experts say.
“This is really a health disparity issue because so many Black Americans, especially men, lose their lives to lung cancer caused by menthol cigarettes,” said Sward. “This would certainly work on addressing some of those health inequities that we see every day because of tobacco use.”
“The thing that menthol does is it has kind of a numbing effect on the throat…people oftentimes inhale more deeply,” said Libby Stern, a tobacco treatment specialist with Spectrum Health. “It’s been heavily marketed always to minority groups, in particular to Black Americans.”
In fact, one of the plaintiffs in the menthol lawsuit against the FDA is the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.
Stern says about 75 percent of smokers admit they would quit if they could. She and other public health advocates think both measures passing would be the most significant step forward in the anti-tobacco movement, perhaps ever.
“It’s been something that’s been in the conversation for many, many years,” she said. “Public health advocates are definitely supportive of that because really the nicotine is the addictive component in the product.”