Lower Nicotine Levels Don’t Increase Number of Cigarettes Smoked, Study Finds
Cigarettes with low nicotine levels may help reduce addiction without causing smokers to puff more cigarettes, a new study finds.
The potential effect of reducing the nicotine levels in cigarettes has been a topic of debate for years. Some experts believe that low-nicotine cigarettes could help smokers quit and make it less likely that new users will become addicted. However, other experts contend that smokers will simply smoke more cigarettes if the nicotine content is lowered, which would expose them to more of the dangerous chemicals in these products.
Of course, experts have not just been arguing about this topic, they have also been studying it. However, the results of the research on low-nicotine cigarettes have been less than conclusive. Some studies have suggested that smokers will compensate for lower nicotine levels by smoking more, while others have suggested that smokers will consume the same number of cigarettes regardless of the nicotine levels.
New Study Shows No Compensation for Less Nicotine
A new study from the University of Waterloo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute supports the “no-compensation” hypothesis. Published in August 2014 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the study found that a group of 72 adult smokers consumed the same number of cigarettes after switching to a brand with only a fraction of the nicotine content of their usual brand.
At the start of the study, the 72 adults smoked cigarettes containing 12 milligrams of nicotine. On average, the group consumed 20 cigarettes per day. Over the next several weeks, the group gradually switched to Quest cigarettes containing lower and lower levels of nicotine. After the third switch, the group was smoking cigarettes containing only 0.6 mg of nicotine.
After each switch, the 72 subjects smoked cigarettes with the new level of nicotine for seven days so that the researchers could evaluate their smoking habits for a full week. In addition to recording how many cigarettes each subject smoked per day, the researchers also evaluated puffing behavior and levels of toxic chemicals in the body.
While the average number of cigarettes consumed by the group rose from 20 to 20.3, the increase was practically negligible when compared to the drastic reduction in the amount of nicotine in the cigarettes. The other measures of smoking behavior evaluated by the researchers also remained essentially the same; there was no increase in smoking intensity, exhaled carbon monoxide or levels of the chemical 1-hydroxypyrene in the system.
Some Advocates Push for Stronger Nicotine Regulation
These and similar results support advocates who have been pushing for regulations on nicotine that lower the levels in cigarettes. However, there is some evidence that lowering nicotine levels causes users to smoke more intensely, puffing longer and inhaling more smoke. Two separate studies in 2005 and 2007 found that users breathe in more smoke and carbon monoxide per puff with lower nicotine cigarettes. This suggests that users are increasing their intake of toxic chemicals in order to get the same amount of nicotine, which on its own is basically harmless.
But more recent research seems to be increasing the evidence that lowering nicotine levels will not increase smoking. This could support the efforts of those who want to reverse the trend of nicotine levels in cigarettes. These levels, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study, have grown by an average of 11 percent from 1998 to 2005.
If the public health community eventually concludes that nicotine levels can be reduced without putting smokers at risk, it could aid anti-smoking efforts. Lowered nicotine intake could help wean smokers who want to quit away from the habit, and decrease the risk that new users will quickly become nicotine-dependent.
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