How do tobacco companies manufacture cigarettes with less nicotine to satisfy the FDA? It rests on a genetic engineering startup, Reuters reports.

The plant biotechnology company says it has more than 200 patents that give it the ability to increase or decrease the level of nicotine in tobacco plants, as well as the level of cannabinoids in cannabis plants.

“We genetically modify the tobacco. We’ve been working on this for 20 years,” Henry Sicignano, chief executive of 22nd Century, told Reuters.

Sicignano, who helped to develop Natural American Spirit cigarettes before the brand was bought by RJ Reynolds in 2002, said the aim was to reduce the harm caused by smoking. By making cigarettes less addictive, people would smoke when they want to rather than when they need to, and would probably smoke less.

That is the logic behind the FDA announcement suggesting regulating nicotine and encouraging smokers to switch to alternatives seen as less harmful, such as e-cigarettes.

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