What happened

Shares of 22nd Century Group (XXII -1.80%) soared 38.6% on Thursday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the company's VLN cigarette as a modified risk tobacco product (MRTP). 

So what 

The agricultural biotechnology-specialist's VLN products contain 95% less nicotine than conventional cigarettes. But they taste and smell like the real thing, according to 22nd Century. Moreover, the FDA found that VLN can "help reduce exposure to, and consumption of, nicotine for smokers who use them."

"Today's decision to authorize VLN's MRTP application places the FDA and 22nd Century together at the vanguard of transforming the tobacco industry," 22nd Century CEO James Mish said in a press release.

22nd Century will work with its retail partners to launch its VLN products in the U.S. in the coming months and in international markets in the first quarter of next year. The company is also exploring the possibility of licensing its reduced nicotine content (RNC) technology to other tobacco businesses.

An extinguished cigarette.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what 

Cigarette addiction is the leading cause of preventable disease in the U.S. Every year, over 480,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses. To save lives, the FDA is trying to give smokers more tools to help them quit.

"Our mission is to find ways to stop tobacco-related disease and death," FDA director Mitch Zeller said. "We know that three out of four adult smokers want to quit and the data on these products show they can help addicted adult smokers transition away from highly addictive combusted cigarettes."

22nd Century wants to help the FDA advance its goal of reducing smoking-related deaths, and it believes its VLN products can do just that.

"With 60% of adult smokers in our U.S. market research telling us they are likely to try VLN, this is a complete game-changer for 22nd Century, the tobacco industry, public health, and adult smokers looking to change their relationship with nicotine," Mish said.