A proposed FDA rule meant to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes sold in the United States would be a boon for improved health and could result in more people giving up smoking in favor of less dangerous forms of nicotine consumption.

“Nicotine is the driving force of addictive quality of cigarettes," said Warren Bickel, a Virginia Tech professor of psychology and director of the Addiction Recovery Research Center of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. "Reduction of nicotine will render cigarettes less rewarding, which may help people quit smoking or cause them to use a less harmful forms of nicotine.”

Bickel noted that cigarette consumption produces untold harm, with approximately a half-million deaths a year, including 30 percent of all cancer deaths.

"Burning the tobacco and consumption of all the chemicals in cigarettes are what makes smoking dangerous, while other forms of nicotine such as the patch and nicotine gum are less toxic," he said.

The Biden administration announced the proposed rule requiring tobacco companies to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes sold in the United States to minimally or nonaddictive levels. The effort, which is expected to be successful, could have an unprecedented effect in slashing smoking-related deaths and threaten a politically powerful industry.

About Bickel

Substance abuse damages health in both long-term and acute ways, and the health impacts of addiction are severe and widespread. Warren Bickel, a professor of psychology at Virginia Tech and researcher with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, studies why people continue to engage in harmful behaviors — such as smoking, substance abuse, and overeating — even when they know what’s at stake. He is director of the Addiction Recovery Research Center and the Center for Health Behaviors Research at the institute, and is an investigator in an international, multi-center study to evaluate measures taken in seven countries to understand the long-term health impact of different regulatory approaches to e-cigarettes and other new nicotine products among youth and adults.