A University of Minnesota study released earlier this month found immediately reducing nicotine in cigarettes is more efficient than gradual reductions.
The University study was presented to the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco products. Following this, the FDA developed a proposal for to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes.
“In fact, [the paper] addresses one of the issues that the FDA is wondering about: what is the best approach?” said Dorothy Hatsukami, director of the tobacco research programs and lead author of the study.
The researchers concluded that in order for a cigarette to be at a minimally addictive level, the amount of nicotine should be reduced to 0.4 mg of nicotine per gram of tobacco. The current average mg of nicotine in one cigarette is between 8 - 20 mg.
“Immediate reduction … leads to less exposure to the harmful chemicals. Also, it leads to less dependence, fewer cigarettes smoked and a higher rate of smoke-free days, compared to the gradual and the control condition," Hatsukami said.
Hatsukami said gradually reducing nicotine can have adverse effects.
“If you do a gradual reduction approach, then there may be a period of time where smokers are actually getting more exposure to carcinogens and toxins than what they were getting when they were smoking at baseline, or smoking their usual brand cigarettes,” she said.
Hatsukami hopes her research will lead the FDA to pass a new proposal.
However, Kenneth Warner, a tobacco policy analyst and dean emeritus of public health at the University of Michigan, said while he wants the proposal to be passed, he sees possible consequences.
“If people don’t like [the] fact that they’re going through withdrawal, which can be very painful for people, they may run out and get regular cigarettes, or drop out of the study. But again, they’re not going to have that option if the policy is adopted by the FDA,” he said. “If [the FDA is] going to have this policy, which is going to directly affect some 38 million American smokers, you need to have good ... alternative nicotine delivery devices for them.”
The new FDA proposal is closed for comments. The FDA will take the submitted comments into consideration and decide if it will move forward with the proposal.
Freshman residential health advocates at the University support the results and want to further communicate the importance of implementing the policy.
“I believe that the other health advocates and I can advocate for greater public health through this and use statistics to show the benefit on the overall population,” said Anish Sethi, a freshman health advocate. “We can also send a mass email outlining the details of [Hatsukami’s] paper and put up posters with a brief summary.”
As the proposal progresses through the stages, Hatsukami aims to bring awareness to the dangers of smoking.
“Cigarettes kill half of its consumers, so we really need to do something about this product,” she said. “I would hope that people will start thinking about this as a possible way to prevent the millions of lives that are lost from cigarette smoking.”
The group started conducting the study in the early 2000s. Following the initial results, the researchers received funding from the National Institutes of Health and the FDA to carry out a bigger trial to further test the findings.