How To Cut Smoking Rates by Lowering Nicotine Levels

By John Lavitt 10/12/15

According to NIDA, nicotine reduction can reduce cravings.


New research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows how to cut smoking rates by lowering the nicotine levels in cigarettes. Reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes leads to a reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked per day, decreased nicotine dependence, and reduced cravings. Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the study recommends that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set new standards that cut the nicotine content of cigarettes.

The study researchers conducted a double blind, parallel, randomized clinical trial between June 2013 and July 2014. In order to provide diversity, the study was held at 10 sites around the country. The goal of the study was to illuminate the relationship between the nicotine content of cigarettes and the desire to smoke.

As the study explains, criteria for eligibility included that participants must be 18 years or older, must smoke five or more cigarettes a day, and have no current interest in quitting smoking. Participants were randomly assigned to smoke for six weeks either their usual brand of cigarettes or one of six types of investigational cigarettes, which were provided for free. The investigational cigarettes had nicotine content ranging from 15.8 mg per gram of tobacco—typical of commercial brands—to 0.4 mg per gram.

Out of 840 initial participants, 780 finished the study. The primary outcome was the number of cigarettes smoked per day during week six as opposed to the initial week. During the sixth week, the average number of cigarettes smoked per day was lower for participants assigned to cigarettes containing less nicotine than for participants assigned to their usual brand or to study cigarettes containing anywhere from 15.8 mg per gram to 5.2 mg per gram.

Participants assigned to cigarettes with 5.2 mg per gram or higher smoked an average of 20.8 cigarettes per day. This rate did not differ significantly from the number among those who smoked control cigarettes, meaning their regular brand. Smoking the cigarettes with lower than 5.2 mg per gram, however, produced a dramatic effect.

The researchers said the reduction in the smoking rate developed, “…without significantly increasing the expired carbon monoxide level or total puff volume, suggesting minimal compensation."

"In this 6-week study, reduced-nicotine cigarettes versus standard-nicotine cigarettes reduced nicotine exposure and dependence and the number of cigarettes smoked,” researchers concluded.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.