Is Low-Nicotine Tobacco the Future of "Smobriety"?
Genetically reducing the nicotine levels in tobacco could help smokers to withdraw gradually, while clinging to the taste and rituals of cigarettes.
A truck recently delivered 45,000 cartons of cigarettes to a research company in North Carolina—but these were no ordinary cigarettes. At a time when 69% of US smokers want to quit—but their success rate is a pitiful 6.2%—the new hope is genetically-altered tobacco, with ultra-low nicotine levels to aid withdrawal. The lowest of the eight strengths of "Spectrum" cigarettes has 97% less nicotine than Marlboro's Gold brand. The modified tobacco is patented by the 22nd Century Group to preserve the tastes, smells and rituals of normal cigarettes, without being nearly as addictive. The special smokes will be used for several studies. One will monitor 500 smokers over six months to see if lowered nicotine levels help them quit and if so, how fast. A 2009 law gave the FDA jurisdiction over tobacco products: they can't ban nicotine completely, but could mandate a huge reduction if it's proven to benefit public health. Smoking in the US has flattened out at about 20% in recent years, after declining up until 2004. Patches, gums, and pills don't significantly dent the stats. But hopes are high for a method allowing smokers to retain treasured sensations, while requiring decreasing numbers of puffs to get the same nicotine hit. Dr. Gregory N. Connolly, an anti-smoking advocate and Harvard professor of public health, says: "After 50 years of knowing cigarettes cause cancer, it's nice to know we have a supply we can investigate. If we can put a man on the moon, we can get rid of nicotine."