Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called the move "an historic first step" to make cigarettes minimally addictive or nonaddictive. It is also seeking comment from the public on things like where nicotine levels should be capped, whether caps should be implemented gradually or all at once, and what unintended consequences could occur.
While the regulation runs the risk of creating a black market of high-nicotine cigarettes, anti-smoking advocates applauded the new rule.
Thursday's action follows Gottlieb's announcement last summer that the agency would pursue a comprehensive plan on tobacco and nicotine regulation in an effort to avert millions of tobacco-related deaths.
"Despite years of aggressive efforts to tackle the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, tobacco use - largely cigarette smoking - still kills more than 480,000 Americans every single year", he said.
Congress gave the FDA the power to regulate - but not ban - tobacco in 2009.
Samir Soneji, principle investigator of the study and associate professor from the Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine said in a statement that, "E-cigarettes will likely cause more public health harm than public health benefit unless ways can be found to substantially decrease the number of adolescents and young adults who vape and increase the number of smokers who use e-cigarettes to successfully quit smoking". He is also curious as to whether or not smokers will consume more cigarettes because of lower nicotine levels, or result to contraband tobacco if all else fails.
Gottlieb said the FDA does not want to make nicotine products harder to get.
"Today's advance notice is a request for information, not a proposed rule, and is the first step in a multi-year process that will require the agency to examine and resolve many complex issues", said Murray Garnick, executive vice president and general counsel of Altria Group, Inc., which includes tobacco giant Philip Morris.
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it is reviewing current science on the role nicotine plays in addiction.