Researchers have long wondered if cutting the amount of nicotine in cigarettes can reduce cigarette use and dependence.
The answer is likely yes. A new study shows when people smoke cigarettes with less nicotine, they smoke less, feel fewer cravings, and try to quit more.
“Reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes to very low levels may make it easier for people to quit smoking if they want to quit,” says study coauthor Jennifer Tidey, associate professor (research) of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.
In the year-long study, 840 volunteer smokers at 10 sites either continued to smoke their usual brand or switched to one of six experimental formulations with varying levels of nicotine for six weeks.
The findings show that nicotine content is a significant determinant of cigarette use and dependence. This is important, because the Food and Drug Administration now has the authority to regulate how much nicotine goes in a cigarette, says Eric Donny, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study that is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
But what about “light” cigarettes? Would they achieve the same result?
No, says Donny. “Light” cigarettes use the same tobacco—with the same nicotine content—as “full-flavor” smokes. The difference is that “lights” manufacturers use a different filter, more porous paper, and/or punch tiny holes in the paper.
And people, unwittingly most often, get around that by puffing extra hard or covering the holes with their fingers. “And they can end up getting the same amount of nicotine,” Donny says. With these [investigational] cigarettes, there is much less nicotine in the tobacco itself.