20 August, 2017
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to make it easier for people to stop smoking.
It proposes to do this by lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes.
The FDA said lower nicotine levels will make it easier for people to smoke less, and to move toward stopping smoking all together.
Scott Gottlieb, the head of the FDA, is a doctor and cancer survivor.
Gottlieb said that most deaths and diseases from smoking are a result of an addiction to nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco plants. A smoking addiction means that people feel such a physical need to smoke that they have a very difficult time stopping. He said that nicotine is to blame for this dependency.
Gottlieb also called cigarettes the only legal product that
"when used as intended will kill half of all long-term users."
The FDA is taking public comments before deciding whether to put the proposed policy into effect.
The Altria Group sells Marlboro and other brands of cigarettes in the United States.
It said any change in nicotine levels must be done "based on science."
The company also said the FDA should watch out for "unintended consequences" – in other words, a result that was not thought of at the time an action was first proposed.
Jennifer Tidey is a professor of psychiatry at Brown University in Rhode Island. She and others did research on lowering nicotine levels. Their findings were published two years ago in The New England Journal of Medicine.
In their study, over 800 smokers were given cigarettes with different levels of nicotine over a six-week period.
Tidey said the results showed that lower-nicotine cigarettes helped people smoke less and even stop smoking.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says cigarette smoking is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced.
WHO said more than seven million people are killed from smoking each year worldwide. Yet it said many people do not know about the dangers of smoking.
"More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 890,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke," WHO said.
Thirteen members of the U.S. Senate wrote a letter to the FDA. The Senators, all members of the Democratic Party, expressed support for the proposed nicotine regulation. They asked that the rule be put into effect quickly.
The letter was put together by Senator Patty Murray from the western state of Washington.
The Reuters news agency reported that officials expect regulators in Europe to study similar calls to reduce nicotine levels.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. His report was based on information from Reuters, the Associated Press and other sources. George Grow was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on 51VOA.COM. Have you ever smoked? If so, how hard is it or has it been for you to stop smoking?
Words in This Story
nicotine - n. a poisonous substance in tobacco that makes it difficult for people to stop smoking cigarettes
cigarettes - n. a small roll of paper that is filled with cut tobacco and smoked
intend - v. the say something is supposed to be done
psychiatry - n. a branch of medicine that deals with mental or emotional disorders
expose - v. to cause someone to be affected by something