Low-nicotine cigarettes may help smokers quit

Studies have shown that when lower nicotine options are available easily, people smoke fewer cigarettes.
By Stephen Feller  |  Oct. 1, 2015 at 12:01 PM
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PITTSBURGH, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Cigarettes with much lower nicotine content than those commercially available were found in a recent study to help smokers cut back, suggesting reduced levels of the drug could help people quit the habit.

Smokers trying to quit have long been under the impression that moving to "light" or "ultra light" cigarettes would help them beat the addiction. The amount of nicotine found in most cigarettes is the same, however, with descriptors referring instead to flavor -- so the switch has no real effect on the addiction.

A previous two-year study found that lower-nicotine cigarettes did not help people quit or reduce the amount they smoked, although researchers said that coupling nicotine reduction with other tactics to quit may prove to be effective.

In a new study at the University of Pittsburgh, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers recruited 840 people who smoke at least five cigarettes per day to randomly be asked to either smoke their regular brand or one of six experimental brands for six weeks. The experimental brands ranged in nicotine content from 15.8 mg per gram of tobacco, the amount found in most commercial brands, to 0.4 mg per gram of tobacco.

The researchers found that participants who were assigned cigarettes with 0.4 mg, 1.3 mg, or 2.4 mg of nicotine per gram of tobacco reduced the average number of cigarettes they smoked per day by between 23 and 30 percent -- reducing their number of smokes to between 14 and 17 per day.

Those who were given cigarettes with 15.8 mg of nicotine per gram of tobacco or were asked to continue smoking their normal brand averaged 21 to 22 cigarettes per day. A group also was asked to smoke experimental cigarettes with 5.2 mg per gram of tobacco, smoking an average of 20.8 cigarettes per day, roughly the same as the control group with normal levels of nicotine.

Researchers in an earlier study at the University of California San Francisco found that lower content cigarettes helped smokers reduce the amount of smokes they had each day, however when they were no longer being provided the experimental lower-nicotine cigarettes most in the study returned to their regular brand and normal level of smoking.

Dr. Neal Benowitz, a researcher at UCSF who was involved with both studies, said when the earlier study was released the ideal method is to pair reduced levels of nicotine intake with other smoking cessation techniques.

"Nicotine reduction would work best in the context of public education, easy access to smoking cessation services and the availability of non-combustible sources of nicotine for those who have difficulty stopping nicotine completely," he said.

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