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New Study Provides Powerful Evidence that Lowering Nicotine Content of Cigarettes Would Reduce Smoking and Save Lives

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 01, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – A study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine provides powerful new evidence that reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes could make a fundamental difference in preventing and reducing cigarette smoking, which is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.

This study indicates that by significantly reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes, it is possible to reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes to help more smokers quit. It also provides solid evidence of the level of nicotine needed to accomplish that goal. As important, the study gives reason to believe that reducing nicotine content could prevent young people who experiment with smoking from becoming addicted smokers.

This study should serve as a catalyst for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish standards requiring the reduction of nicotine content in cigarettes. Under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA can establish standards for tobacco products to protect public health, including the reduction, but not complete elimination, of nicotine. It is time for the FDA to exercise this authority that has the potential to save so many lives.

In the study, a clinical trial, researchers randomly assigned 780 adult smokers to smoke either their usual brand of cigarettes or one of six types of investigational cigarettes, with nicotine content ranging from 15.8 milligrams per gram of tobacco (typical of commercial brands) down to 0.4 mg per gram. After six weeks, smokers given cigarettes with 2.4 mg of nicotine or less smoked significantly fewer cigarettes per day without altering how they smoked and with “minimal evidence of withdrawal-related discomfort,” the study found. Those smoking cigarettes with the lowest nicotine content (0.4 mg) were twice as likely to report trying to quit in the 30 days after the study ended.

This study shows that reducing nicotine levels holds great promise for accelerating progress in reducing smoking and its horrific toll in health, lives and health care dollars. As an accompanying commentary in The New England Journal states, “Reducing the nicotine content of combustible tobacco to levels that will not sustain dependence seems to us to be the most promising regulatory option” for preventing millions of premature deaths. It is critical that the FDA act on these findings.