Reducing Nicotine Content in Cigarettes

Categories: New Grant Award

Type: News

Date Published: 11/24/2014

Oregon Research Institute is one of ten sites in the United States that is studying the effects of nicotine reduction on health by having people smoke cigarettes that contain varying and reduced levels of nicotine. Nicotine is the highly addictive component of cigarettes. The purpose of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded study is to look at the health and behavioral impacts among smokers of lowered nicotine levels. Results will help the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set new standards for nicotine content in cigarettes. The ORI study is led by senior scientist Herb Severson, Ph.D.

Most smokers want to quit, but only 5% succeed each year due to the addictive properties of nicotine. The premise of the current research is that reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes over time will result in lower intake of nicotine and a lower level of addiction. When nicotine levels get very low, cigarettes would be much less addictive. As a result, fewer young people who experiment with cigarettes would become addicted while adult smokers and previously addicted smokers would find it easier to quit smoking when they attempt to do so.

“While the FDA has been given the authority to regulate and reduce the nicotine levels in cigarettes, the scientific basis for doing this has not been well established. This study is the first comprehensive study on the impact of significantly reducing the nicotine levels in cigarettes and the study will provide the FDA with a science base on which to base their policies,” said Dr. Severson.

With the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) in 2009, the FDA was given the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The Act allows the FDA to regulate nicotine content and “harmful components” in cigarettes. Although it precludes reducing nicotine to zero, the Act does not prohibit the FDA from setting standards for cigarette nicotine content that would prevent cigarettes from being capable of causing addiction.

Volunteers participating in the double-blind, randomized control trial are randomly assigned to one of three conditions: One group receives cigarettes with a very low nicotine content, another group receives cigarettes with nicotine levels that change over time and the third group receives cigarettes that have nicotine levels similar to their usual brand. Participants are asked to smoke only the cigarettes provided by the study for 20 weeks. All cigarettes were produced by a tobacco company for the NIH and are owned by the government.

Tobacco use is (still) the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking results in more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year—about 1 in every 5 U.S. deaths.

This two-year grant is a subaward with the University of Minnesota from the University of Pittsburgh from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).