For the first time, the federal government is proposing cutting the nicotine level in cigarettes so they aren't so addictive.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb on Friday directed the agency's staff to develop new regulations on nicotine. The FDA has had the power since 2009 to regulate nicotine levels but hasn't done so. Stocks of cigarette makers plunged after the announcement.
As part of the new strategy, the FDA is giving e-cigarette makers four more years to comply with a review of products already on the market, Gottlieb said. The agency intends to write rules that balance safety with e-cigarettes' role in helping smokers quit, he said.
"A renewed focus on nicotine can help us to achieve a world where cigarettes no longer addict future generations of our kids," Gottlieb said in a speech to staff in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Tar and other substances inhaled through smoking make cigarettes deadly, but the nicotine in tobacco is what makes them addictive.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable heart disease, cancer and death in the United States, causing more than 480,000 deaths annually. Smoking rates, though, have been falling for decades and are at about 15 percent.