This novel and intriguing idea is that smokers would quickly switch to e-cigarettes or other alternatives to get the nicotine they seek, a much safer option than burning tobacco and inhaling the smoke. Of course, regulators would have to figure out how to prevent black market sales of high-nicotine cigarettes.

Meanwhile, low-nicotine cigarettes would be less likely to hook a new generation of young smokers. Nearly 90 percent of adult smokers took up the habit before they turned 18. Making cigarettes less appealing and addictive to young people would be revolutionary and would put the goal of a smoke-free generation within grasp.

An opening to e-cigarettes?

Critics of the announcement on lowering nicotine in cigarettes fear a side component of the plan will encourage more e-cigarettes.

Some critics have focused on Gottlieb’s decision to delay the regulatory process for e-cigarettes, hookahs and other novel products while exploring how to reduce nicotine in traditional cigarettes. But he has pledged not to delay important, common-sense regulations to protect children from accidental poisoning by making the containers of liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes child-proof, and by setting standards for battery packs which occasionally burn or explode, injuring users.

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The public will need to be patient because the regulatory process is extraordinarily slow. In fact, the first step is the arcane-sounding “Advance notice of proposed rule-making,” and there are nine steps in all to adopting a new regulation.

It’s also unclear whether tobacco companies will fight the FDA’s proposal to reduce nicotine in conventional cigarettes by dragging the debate through the court system. In the past, cigarette makers have been quick to file lawsuits or mount lobbying campaigns to head off perceived threats to their industry. Right now, an organization receiving substantial financial support from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is pushing for a repeal of a decision by San Francisco city leaders to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, which are widely seen as appealing to young people. Indeed, stock prices for the big cigarette producers plunged after the FDA announcement, a signal that the FDA proposal was seen as bad for their bottom line.

However, it’s worth noting that several cigarette manufacturers are also entering the market for e-cigarettes and other novel nicotine delivery devices, so they may be ready to switch rather than fight (to reverse a line from an old tobacco ad). For a sense of how the strategy, or at least the public messaging, of some cigarette makers is evolving, go to the homepage of tobacco giant Philip Morris International, where the splashy design claims the company is “Designing a Smoke-Free Future.”

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There are many forces at work, but the good news is that scientists and the general public will get opportunities to offer their input as this process moves forward. And a growing number of state and local governments are adopting their own policies to protect young people from smoking cigarettes, including raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

In the meantime, I want to encourage smokers to do what they can to quit. Don’t get discouraged and don’t put it off. Most people make several “failed” attempts to quit before they manage to quit for good.

The ConversationFind the method that works for you, and if it’s e-cigarettes, make sure you really are using them to help you quit smoking conventional cigarettes and not falling into the trap of becoming a “dual user” who never kicks the smoking habit. Stay focused on the goal – to stop inhaling the toxic smoke that’s generated by setting tobacco on fire.

Michael P. Eriksen, Professor and Dean, School of Public Health, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.