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Cutting cigarette nicotine? Juul banned? What’s next for Michigan smokers

cigarette
Smoking continues to be the leading cause of death in the nation. A move to potentially develop and implement a rule lowering nicotine levels could help. (Shutterstock)

The Biden administration wants to lower the level of nicotine allowed in cigarettes to make them less addictive. Combined with the banning of Juul vapes and the possible ban of all menthol cigarettes, the federal efforts could save thousands of lives.

The administration announced plans this week to create a rule mandating that nicotine levels in cigarettes be lowered to nonaddictive levels in the United States. While the rule could take at least a year to be put in place, it could have a major impact on health, said Clifford Douglas, adjunct professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and director at the University of Michigan's Tobacco Research Network.

The policy, if enacted, would likely not only fuel a decline in the number of people smoking, but could help millions of lives be saved from the harmful effects of cigarette use, Douglas said.

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“The best research to date strongly indicates that eliminating the addictiveness of these products will substantially reduce smoking prevalence in this country to historic lows,” Douglas said. “And that translates directly into lives saved because more than half of our long-term smokers are killed by addiction to cigarettes.”

In Michigan, an estimated 16,200 residents die each year from smoking-related causes; nationwide, that number is estimated to be more than 480,000. Smoking is the greatest cause of preventable deaths in the nation.

Although nicotine itself is not deadly, it is the chemical that makes cigarettes addictive. Other chemicals in cigarettes produce smoke that causes life-threatening illnesses. 

“The projected impact is substantial,” Douglas said. “And there is no other policy intervention that we're aware of that could reduce illness and save as many lives as this one.” 

The Biden administration said it hopes for the Food and Drug Administration to develop a proposed rule by May 2023. 

“These things always take time,” Douglas said. “And they're affected by politics and legal challenges… But it's historic that they are being pursued by the Biden administration.”  

The announcement comes as the FDA announced it will make Juul, an e-cigarette company, remove all of its vaping products from the U.S. market. This comes after the company handed over inadequate information regarding chemicals that could potentially leak out of the e-liquid pods.

The FDA also proposed a rule earlier in April that would ban the manufacturing and sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars to help curb the number of people addicted to tobacco products and potential deaths resulting from smoking. Menthol cigarettes are most often used by the younger population and Black communities. The FDA is receiving public comments until July 5 before it makes its final decision on the rule.  

Paul Steiner, Executive Director of Tobacco Free Michigan, told Bridge Michigan that these announcements regarding the potential plans to lower nicotine levels and to remove Juul products from the market by the FDA “show a real commitment on the federal level to save lives.” He also said he is “not seeing that same commitment at the state level.”

Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, said the moves by the FDA and Biden administration are really “more of a continuation of a trajectory” of increased tobacco regulations. 

“Over time, we have increased tobacco regulation,” Grossmann said. “It sort of had a self-reinforcing effect, because as the number of people who smoke goes down, the resistance to further regulations also goes down.” 

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