The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed several potential regulatory actions that would implement a cap on the amount of nicotine that may be included in combustible tobacco products.

According to the June 21 announcement, the goal of the proposed rule would be to reduce youth use by limiting nicotine to levels that render cigarettes minimally- or non-addictive. The proposal describes how this could help save lives, noting that nicotine addiction leads to “repeated exposure to toxicants from [tobacco] products.”

If implemented, the limit on nicotine would help to prevent people who experiment with cigarettes from becoming regular users. Since most tobacco experimenters are young adults or teenagers, this would yield a lifetime of benefit. The FDA also stated that this rule would advance healthcare equity “by addressing disparities associated with cigarette smoking, dependence, and cessation.”

In the announcement, FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. called nicotine “powerfully addictive” and that “Making cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products minimally addictive or non-addictive would help save lives.” The commissioner cited the U.S. Surgeon General’s report that 87% of adult smokers began smoking before age 18, with 67% smoking daily by the time they became legal adults.

According to the FDA, 480,000 people die prematurely each year in the U.S. from diseases that are attributed to smoking. This makes smoking the leading cause of preventable disease and death. In addition to the loss of life, the use of tobacco products costs the country $300 billion annually in lost productivity and direct health care expenses.

While limiting the levels of nicotine would not make combustible tobacco less hazardous to the user’s health, it would reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes. Nicotine is powerfully addictive and is often attributed as the reason that quitting smoking is difficult. According to the FDA, more than 50% of smokers attempt to quit each year, staving off using tobacco for at least a day. Unfortunately, due to nicotine’s powerful addictive properties, most fail to shake off the potentially deadly habit.