Reduced nicotine in cigarettes failed to help smokers quit: Study

By Gil Ross — Jul 27, 2015
One tactic promulgated by anti-smoking advocates over the years has been lowering the nicotine content of cigarettes to less-addictive levels. A new study by one such advocate seems to show that method will not help reduce the toll of smoking.

No Cigs for You!New findings published in the journal Addiction examine research on low nicotine content (LNC) cigarettes and how reducing nicotine (N) in cigarettes might function as a measure to help reduce addictiveness. Unfortunately, the study findings revealed that lower nicotine levels may not be enough to achieve those goals.

Nicotine absorbed from inhaled cigarette smoke is highly addictive and is primarily responsible for the maintenance of cigarette smoking (although the addictive power of smoking is much more complex, including other psychoactive smoke chemicals and the ritualistic/behavioral patterns of smoking).

For many years, a tactic involving federal regulation of the nicotine content of cigarettes reducing the level of nicotine permissible gradually, making smoking less addictive, in theory has been suggested as a means to reduce the toll of smoking. Many scientists involved in the smoking/nicotine issue believed that, on the contrary, lower N levels would lead smokers to draw/inhale more deeply and/or more frequently to obtain their craved level of nicotine, leading to more, rather than less, smoking-related disease. Further, those advocating this method asserted that if nicotine levels were low enough, cigarettes would be much less addictive, and as a result, fewer young people who experiment with cigarettes would become addicted while adult smokers and previously addicted smokers would find it easier to quit.

The regulatory authority to promulgate such a public health strategy was provided by 2009 s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Although it forbids reducing N-content to zero, the act does not prohibit the FDA from lowering the allowable N-content to much lower levels than currently allowed.

The two-year-long study, led by UCSF s Dr. Neal Benowitz, looked at 135 smokers who were given five levels of progressively lower nicotine content cigarettes over the course of one year. The lowest nicotine content cigarette was smoked for 7 months while those in the control group smoked their usual brand of cigarettes for 12 months. Participants were then followed for another 12 months after returning to their own cigarettes or quitting.

During the 12-month follow-up, the results objectively monitored by measuring levels of cotinine, a nicotine breakdown product found in blood or urine showed that those who received lower levels of nicotine returned to similar levels of smoking compared to those in the control group. In other words, quitting was just as likely among those in the control group as those who had received LNC cigarettes. Thus, the findings suggest that reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes may not be enough to eliminate smoking dependence.

"We don't know that very low nicotine cigarettes will not work to reduce nicotine dependence and enhance quitting, but progressively reducing nicotine content of cigarettes in the way we did, without other means of supporting smokers, did not produce the desired results," lead author Benowitz told Science Daily in a news release.

I should point out that Dr. Benowitz has been a long-term advocate for reducing N levels in cigarettes to help addicted smokers quit and lower the likelihood of youngsters becoming rapidly addicted, as all too often occurs.

Indeed, in an article in Tobacco Control in 2013, he wrote this: Preventing children from become addicted smokers and giving people greater freedom to stop smoking when they so decide to quit by reducing the addictiveness of cigarettes is a policy that increasingly appears to be feasible and warranted. Unfortunately, it will not be that simple, it seems, to get smokers to quit. Tobacco harm reduction, on the other hand, seems to be helping many smokers to finally escape smoking s lethal grip.

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