The FDA does not have the power to ban cigarettes or tobacco products, but was given some powers of regulation over them by Congress in 2009.
About 15% of USA adults smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We're interested in public input on critical questions such as: what potential maximum nicotine level would be appropriate for the protection of public health?" Cutting the nicotine level would not only help them succeed, but it also could keep young people who may be experimenting with cigarettes from becoming addicted, he said. Should a new standard be implemented all at once or gradually?
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an antismoking group, said that Thursday's action will have "enormous significance" - provided it is followed by quick FDA action to develop and adopt a final rule.
Given that the tobacco industry is likely to fight these proposals, it could be eight to 10 years before reduced-nicotine cigarettes become a reality, said Erika Sward, assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association.
The notice, issued ahead of proposed rule making, says the agency will explore how much nicotine should be allowable, in terms of protecting public health, in cigarettes and whether there are trade-offs the agency should consider.
Gottlieb admitted that people might smoke more of the low-nicotine cigarettes to get the same effect, as well as the possibility that a black market for high-nicotine cigarettes might develop, the Post reported. Would smokers compensate for the loss of nicotine by smokingmore cigarettes? Smoking also costs the country $300 billion a year in direct health care and lost productivity, Gottlieb said.