Between 1998 and 2005, “smoke nicotine yield per cigarette” increased an average of 1.6% per year, or about 11% during the above time frame in major brand name cigarettes. Although chemicals are added to cigarettes to help make them more addictive, it is the nicotine that is the primary addictive chemical. When the 2009 Tobacco Control Act “granted the FDA vastly greater regulatory power over tobacco products,” the FDA was also granted “the authority to reduce nicotine” if it meant improving public health. It has taken all these years for a large study to show that reducing the nicotine in cigarettes benefits the smokers.
During 2013 and 2014, “840 smokers” took part in a study funded by the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) and conducted by the University of Pittsburgh. Smokers were divided randomly including those who “smoked their usual brand”; those who smoked “an investigational cigarette with 15.8mg of nicotine” (similar to what one would purchase in a store); or those who would smoke “one of few investigational cigarettes with a nicotine concentration ranging from 33 percent down to 2 percent of a typical cigarette.” The cigarettes were provided to the participants and the end results surprised the researchers.
Those who smoked the lower-nicotine cigarettes actually “smoked 23 to 30 percent fewer cigarettes than those smoking their own brand or one of the other investigational cigarettes with 15.8 mg/g and 5.2 mg/g” of nicotine. Surprisingly, reducing the nicotine by two-thirds did not alter the smoking behavior, but “an 85 percent reduction (or more) did.”
While nicotine does not cause the diseases associated with smoking, such as heart disease or cancer, it does cause addiction to tobacco. Researchers were concerned that reducing nicotine levels would increase cigarette consumption to get additional nicotine and thereby removing any benefit to the smoker, but in fact that didn’t happen.
Lower nicotine levels, less cigarettes smoked overall, and the health benefits that come with less smoking sounds like a win for smokers.
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