Cigarettes with very low levels of nicotine lower risk of addiction

Nicotine, the active ingredient found in tobacco products, is very addictive which helps explain why many smokers find it difficult to quit smoking regardless of being aware of its negative consequences. The challenge to quit is also exacerbated by the notion that switching to "lights," which contain lower levels of nicotine could just result in smokers puffing more cigarettes as they adjust their intake of nicotine and which could lead to increased exposure to cancer-causing smoke.

A new study, however, suggests that cigarettes with very low levels of nicotine may actually help lower addiction without increasing a smoker's exposure to toxic substances and smoke.

For the study published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention on Aug. 22, David Hammond, from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and Richard J. O'Connor, from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, monitored the smoking behavior of 72 adult smokers as they gradually switched from their usual cigarette brand to three Quest cigarettes containing progressively reduced nicotine levels. The period for smoking a cigarette before switching to another with lower nicotine level was seven days.

The researchers found that there were no significant changes on the smoking intensity and frequency of the subjects when they switched to a cigarette brand with lower levels of nicotine. The subjects, on average, consume 20 cigarettes per day when using their usual brand with nicotine content of 12 mg and the smoking increased to only 20.3 cigarettes per day when they used the cigarette with the lowest nicotine content of 0.6 mg. The researchers likewise observed that there were no changes in the subject's puffing behavior, the number of cigarettes they smoke and the level of toxic chemicals in their system.

"The findings provide little evidence of compensatory smoking of Quest cigarettes, with no increases in exhaled breath carbon monoxide levels, smoking intensity, or levels of 1-hydroxypyrene across study periods," the researchers wrote. "No significant differences were observed for smoking urges or measures of nicotine dependence."

The findings may pacify concerns that smokers would smoke more cigarettes or puff harder if the nicotine levels in their cigarettes are reduced to negligible amounts.

"There is ample evidence from inside and outside the tobacco industry that major reductions in the nicotine content of cigarettes would result in a less-addictive product," Hammond said. "Overall, the impact of a less-addictive cigarette on reducing smoking uptake and cancer prevention is potentially massive."

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