Lowering nicotine loosens tobacco’s hold

A team of researchers, including two at Brown University, show that when people smoked cigarettes with less nicotine, they smoked less, felt less craving, and tried to quit more. Results appear in The New England Journal of Medicine.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Two Brown University researchers are co-authors of a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that nicotine content is a significant determinant of cigarette use and dependence.

The year-long, double-blind, parallel, randomized clinical trial, led by Eric Donny at the University of Pittsburgh, included 840 participants at 10 sites and had volunteer smokers either continue to smoke their usual brand or switch to one of six experimental formulations with varying levels of nicotine for six weeks.

Jennifer Tidey.  "When the amount of nicotine in cigarettes was reduced to very low levels, people smoked fewer cigarettes, became less dependent, had less craving when they made a temporary quit attempt, and made more quit attempts after the study" Photo credit: Suzanne Colby

Jennifer Tidey. “When the amount of nicotine in cigarettes was reduced to very low levels, people smoked fewer cigarettes, became less dependent, had less craving when they made a temporary quit attempt, and made more quit attempts after the study” Photo credit: Suzanne Colby

“Our results show that when the amount of nicotine in cigarettes was reduced to very low levels, people smoked fewer cigarettes, became less dependent, had less craving when they made a temporary quit attempt, and made more quit attempts after the study,” said co-author Jennifer Tidey, associate professor (research) of psychiatry and human behavior in the Brown University School of Public Health’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies. “Therefore, reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes to very low levels may make it easier for people to quit smoking if they want to quit.”

Brown University graduate student Rachel Denlinger is the study’s second author.

Tidey is now conducting a study in which her team is switching smokers with schizophrenia to normal-nicotine research cigarettes or very low nicotine research cigarettes for six weeks.

“The reason for the study is that 44 percent of cigarettes smoked in the United States are consumed by people with psychiatric illness,” she said. “People with schizophrenia have one of the highest rates of smoking of any patient group and have tremendous difficulty quitting even though most would like to quit. We are testing whether this might be a viable way of reducing tobacco dependence in people with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.”

– By David Orenstein

*Source: Brown University

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