Fall 2016

Your move, FDA

Dorothy Hatsukami
Photography by scott streble

Would reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes curb addiction? Signs point to yes, according to a U-led study.

Researchers involved with the yearlong study of 840 smokers at 10 sites across the United States, including the University of Minnesota, provided some participants with cigarettes that matched the nicotine levels of their preferred brands and others with one of five investigational cigarettes with lower nicotine levels.

The nicotine reduction ranged from 66 percent to 98 percent. On average, participants given lower-nicotine cigarettes smoked less per day at the end of the six weeks. Exposure to, dependence on, and cravings for nicotine all decreased for this group.

Quit attempts were most likely when nicotine content dropped to 0.4 mg per gram of tobacco, says senior author Dorothy Hatsukami, a Masonic Cancer Center member and holder of the Forster Family Chair in Cancer Prevention. That level—roughly 2 percent of the nicotine dose found in a regular cigarette—no longer delivered enough nicotine to the brain to make smokers want to smoke more.

“If you reduce dependence on cigarettes, then you are likely to reduce the number of people who smoke,” Hatsukami says. Her group is now looking at whether it would be best to reduce nicotine content in cigarettes to minimally addictive levels immediately or more gradually. 

Then, she adds, with mounting research data, it will be up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to decide if, when, and how to enact standards for lower nicotine levels in cigarettes.