The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last week its intentions to lower nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, and some experts believe the decision could push smokers to vape devices.
Nicotine is addictive but is not the product responsible for affecting the health of millions of people around the world. Conditions such as heart attack, lung cancer, or respiratory issues are often associated with other cigarette additives like tar.
Furthermore, most smokers believe that cigarettes with “non-addictive” levels of nicotine are safer to smoke. However, a recent study claims that people could begin smoking more or be less likely to quit if they believe these cigarettes are safer.
People who smoke low-nicotine cigars end up smoking less
In a study recently published in the journal Tobacco Control, a group of researchers found that perceived nicotine content was associated with perceived health risks. The study was led by Lauren Pacek from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Pacek told Reuters Health the bright side of the study was that they didn’t find any association between perceived nicotine content and smoking behavior. Meaning, the smokers in their study still wanted to quit smoking within a year even if they thought low-nicotine cigarettes caused fewer health adversities than traditional cigars.
The findings were drawn from participants involved in a 2015 study, in which smokers who consumed cigarettes with less nicotine ended up smoking far less than those who smoked traditional cigarettes. Plus, they ended up having less exposure to nicotine.
In a six-week study, researchers recruited 839 daily smokers who were randomly assigned to smoke either their usual cigarettes or experimental ones with varying levels of nicotine over the course of six weeks.
Participants who ended up in the experimental group were unaware of the nicotine content of their smokes. The researchers found that by the end of the study, about 34 percent thought they were smoking cigarettes with very low nicotine levels, about 36 percent thought their cigarettes had low levels of nicotine, 24 percent believed nicotine levels were moderate in their cigars, and 6.8 percent thought it was high or very high.
Smokers associated health risks with nicotine levels in cigarettes
Based on the data gathered in the six weeks of study, Pacek and her colleagues found that participants thought the health risks posed by cigarettes increased depending on the levels of nicotine.
However, even if participants thought that low-nicotine cigarettes were less harmful, people who thought they were smoking very low nicotine ones were more likely to say they would quit smoking within a year if those were the only cigarettes available, compared to participants smoking cigarettes with low or moderate nicotine levels.
Pacek noted that the study cannot say definitely that seeing cigarettes with low levels of nicotine as safer won’t necessarily lead people to smoke more. The researchers also conducted a follow-up study to assess if over the long term those thoughts made a difference.
“We should be able to dig into the data and look at that pretty soon,” Pacek told Reuters Health.
FDA’s plan could shift smokers towards e-cigarettes and vaping devices
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, causing more than 480,000 deaths each year. Cigarettes cause millions of people’s death around the world every year and also pose a massive financial burden on societies.
In that light, the FDA recently decided to announce plans to begin a public dialogue to reduce nicotine levels on all cigarettes. The agency doesn’t have the power to ban cigarette sales or to reduce nicotine levels to zero, but they can make tobacco companies reduce nicotine levels to make cigarettes less addictive than they currently are.
“The overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes – the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb when they announced their plans in late July.
Over the past decades, several U.S. agencies and regulators have been taking measures to make cigarettes less appealing to more people. Smoking in public places has been banned for years, and tobacco taxes are increased every once in a while to make cigarettes more expensive. However, the rate of adult cigarette use has only decreased about a quarter since 1965, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most experts believe that these measures taking against cigarettes will ultimately cause smokers shift towards e-cigarettes and vaping atomizers. The U.K. Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies claims that e-cigarettes are about 9 percent safer than smoked tobacco. E-cigarettes and vaping devices heat liquid nicotine, creating the vapor.
Those devices don’t contain toxic chemicals found in cigarettes such as carbon monoxide and tar, which cause many health problems. It seems as though the FDA announcement will encourage smokers to change cigarettes for vaping devices.