CHICAGO — A low-nicotine cigarette to help consumers “smoke less” was launched this week in a pilot program in the Chicago area.

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The cigarettes, called VLN King and VLN Menthol King, are the first combustible cigarettes to gain clearance from the United States Food and Drug Administration as products that can help consumers reduce their exposure and use of nicotine, reported the Chicago Tribune.

The cigarettes, made by 22nd Century Group, based in Buffalo, New York, contain 95% less nicotine than traditional cigarettes, according to the newspaper. They are available at Circle K stores in the Chicago area, the company said in a press release. They will cost between $9 and $12, and after the pilot program ends, 22nd Century Group plans to expand nationwide to more than 7,000 stores in 48 states, WMAQ-TV reported.

The company produces the cigarettes by genetically modifying the roots of tobacco plants, causing them to produce less nicotine, the Tribune reported.

“Studies show that at least half of all adult smokers try to quit each year,” James A. Mish, CEO of 22nd Century Group, said in a statement. “VLN cigarettes offer them an alternative that tastes, smells and burns like a cigarette, but significantly reduces their nicotine consumption.”

The FDA requires 22nd Century Group to include the phrase “Helps you smoke less” when advertising cigarettes, the Tribune reported. Cigarette packs must also bear conventional warnings about the dangers of any cigarette, such as cancer, heart disease and exposure to carbon monoxide.

Special authorization does not mean the products are FDA-approved or considered safe, according to the journal. They are intended for current smokers.

“More than 30 million Americans still smoke despite decades of attempts to migrate smokers to other forms of nicotine delivery, taxation of cigarettes, bans on smoking in public, and numerous educational campaigns on the dangers of smoking,” Michael Zercher, president and CEO of 22nd Century Group, said in a statement. “(The) 22nd Century Group is the only company tackling the problem by removing the addictive element from combustible cigarettes, an approach the FDA projects could save 8 million lives by the end of the decade if levels nicotine from all cigarettes had to be reduced to the levels reached by VLN.

The FDA regulates their manufacture, import, packaging, labeling, advertising, promotion, sale and distribution, the Tribune reported.

“Having options like these products authorized today, which contain less nicotine and are reasonably likely to reduce nicotine dependence, can help adult smokers,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. , in December, according to the newspaper. “If adult smokers were less dependent on burnt cigarettes, they would likely smoke less and may be exposed to fewer harmful chemicals that cause tobacco-related illness and death.”

The percentage of people who smoke cigarettes in the United States has dropped dramatically over the years, from 20.9% of the population in 2005 to 12.5% ​​in 2020 – more than 30 million people – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tariq Butt, president of the Chicago Medical Society, said VLN cigarettes are an option doctors could consider to help smokers cut down on smoking.

“As a primary care physician, I have lost patients because they were unable to quit,” Butt said in a press release. “We can’t ignore new products that could help people smoke less. If the FDA says this reduced nicotine cigarette will help people smoke less, then as doctors, that’s something we need to consider for patients.