Analysts said that the move was a game-changer for the industry.
It is estimated that 36.5 million people in this country are cigarette smokers.
"The FDA intends to start an open discourse about bringing down nicotine levels in ignitable cigarettes to non-addictive levels through achievable item models", the organization said in the declaration.
Marlboro and Parliament maker Altria shares plunged almost 10% in response to the FDA detailing a new approach that would explicitly target nicotine and addiction to cigarettes. The original deadline was November 8, 2018, and the four-year extension is supposed to provide more time for public comment and industry guidance as part of a "comprehensive regulatory plan" that aims to strike "an appropriate balance between regulation and encouraging development of innovative tobacco products that may be less unsafe than cigarettes". "Overall, while viewed as a negative for cigarette manufacturers, we believe this could prove to be an opportunity over the long term for reduced-risk products and, therefore, (the Altria Group/ Phillip Morris International) as they have a unique competitive advantage with iQOS".
The US Food and Drug Administration said that it aims to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes but also encourage smokers to shift towards e-cigarettes as part of a major new regulatory programme. The FDA has not said what level of nicotine it is aiming for.
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Gottlieb also wants new rules to address flavored tobacco products and kids.
Until now, USA health officials have stuck with an abstinence-only message to the public.
That means e-cigarette companies will be able to keep their products on the market longer, which is drawing criticism from the campaign for tobacco-free kids.
E-cigarettes and vaping devices that were on the market in August 2016 won't be subject to review until 2021 or 2022, depending on the type of product.
There's additional research underway to see how often people who smoke lower-nicotine cigarettes switch to e-cigarettes or other, less harmful tobacco products, he said. Altria added that it will play an active role throughout this process.