Switching to low-nicotine cigarettes may not necessarily reduce harm to smokers, experts warn.
New “RNC” cigarettes contain varying levels of low nicotine and are constructed differently than light cigarettes.
For the study, published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 158 non-treatment-seeking smokers participated in a 35-day study to examine how a person smokes a cigarette (including the number of puffs and puff volume, duration, and velocity).
After a five-day baseline period, 80 participants were randomly assigned to an experimental group and were asked to smoke three levels of progressively decreasing reduced nicotine content (RNC) cigarettes (during three 10-day periods), and 78 participants served as a control group that smoked their own brand of cigarettes throughout the study.
The researchers assessed smoking behaviors and took blood samples to test for various biomarkers throughout the study.
“Of particular interest is that when smoking the moderate nicotine level cigarettes, participants consumed more cigarettes each day but puffed each less intensely than when smoking their own brand, or compared to the control group,” says Andrew A. Strasser, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.
“But then daily cigarette consumption decreased and puffing intensity increased for the lowest nicotine cigarette, illustrating the complexities in evaluating cigarette use patterns. To further add to the complexities, our measures of smoke exposure significantly decreased for the lowest nicotine cigarette compared to the control group, but the intermediate nicotine level cigarettes increased some toxicant exposures while decreasing others.”
For a second related study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers used eye-tracking technology to examine how 202 smokers view cigarette advertising. Specifically, the study focused on whether counter-advertising and corrective messages—such as adding information to let smokers know that lower nicotine doesn’t mean more healthy—could improve smokers’ understanding of their risks.
The eye tracking results demonstrated that the majority of smokers don’t look at the warning label box found in tobacco advertisements. Including risk information in the body of an advertisement, made smokers more likely to look at, remember, and believe the risks. The results could support regulation for how tobacco products are marketed, the researchers say.
“The Tobacco Control Act allows the FDA to regulate tobacco product marketing and advertising so that people are not mislead about harm; and, the FDA can also set standards on cigarette constituent levels, including nicotine, if scientific evidence supports it will benefit public health,” Strasser says.
“While these studies are scientifically quite different, their results may collectively inform future policy and law by regulating the ways RNCs can be marketed, as well as identifying optimal nicotine levels in cigarettes to reduce exposure to the dangerous substances they contain.”
The University of Pennsylvania Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science and the National Cancer Institute supported the work.
Source: University of Pennsylvania