Fears that people turning to reduced-nicotine cigarettes will simply smoke more of them to make up for their lower nicotine levels are unfounded, a study finds.
It suggests that the low-nicotine smokes could help reduce addiction without increasing smokers' contact with toxic ingredients in tobacco smoke, researchers at Canada's University of Waterloo say.
In a study with 72 adult smokers aged 18 to 65, having them switch to lower-nicotine cigarettes did not result in any changes in the study participants' smoking habits, the quantity of cigarettes smoked or the levels of such chemical in their bodies, the researchers found.
The study comes amid calls for governments to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, under the 2009 Tobacco Act, has been mandated to consider reducing nicotine levels down to negligible amounts, the researchers noted.
"One of the primary barriers to reducing nicotine levels is the belief that individuals who continue to smoke will smoke more cigarettes in an effort to extract the same nicotine levels, thereby exposing themselves to greater amounts of toxic chemicals," says lead study author David Hammond of the Ontario university's Applied Health Sciences department.
The study findings suggest that's not likely, he says.
In the study, participants were provided with Quest cigarettes, the world's only commercially available brand of cigarette with significantly reduced nicotine levels.
Three types of Quest cigarettes were provided with nicotine levels of 0.6 milligrams for the first week, then 0.3 mg in the second week and finally 0.05 mg for the final week.
This compares to the average 1.2 mg found in most commercial cigarette brands.
Despite the lower nicotine levels, the study participants were "unable or unwilling to compensate when there is markedly less nicotine in the cigarette and when the experience of smoking is far less rewarding," Hammond says.
Of all the ingredients in a typical cigarette, nicotine is the most addictive; satisfying smokers' cravings but making it difficult for those who decide to attempt to quit the habit.
Studies from both outside and inside the tobacco industry provide ample evidence that significant reductions in nicotine levels in cigarettes could make them a product with less-addictive qualities, Hammond says.
The study could help government regulators anticipate some of the consequences that might be expected from a mandatory reduction in cigarette nicotine levels, he says.
"Overall, the impact of a less-addictive cigarette on reducing smoking uptake and cancer prevention is potentially massive."