Making Cigarettes Less Addictive?

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Rendering of a broken chain of cigarettes

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Fewer teens than ever before are smoking cigarettes these days. That’s terrific! However, all the smoking-related news isn’t good: More than 37 million adults in the United States still smoke.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates drugs in the United States, wants to reduce the health risks of smoking. They’re taking early steps toward reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. How could that help?

Targeting nicotine

Nicotine is the ingredient in tobacco that can lead to addiction by stimulating the brain’s reward system. So the idea is, if cigarettes have less nicotine, it may be easier for smokers to quit and less likely that people who start smoking will get addicted.

But how would smokers react to cigarettes with less nicotine? A recent study investigated that question.

What scientists learned

The study lasted 20 weeks and involved 1,250 smokers, who were divided into two groups:

  • Group A switched from regular cigarettes to cigarettes with almost no nicotine.
  • Group B switched to cigarettes with gradually reduced levels of nicotine.

The researchers wanted to know: Would one of the groups smoke less than the other, show less dependence on cigarettes, and ultimately go a longer time without smoking at all?

The answer was clear: Group A—who switched to cigarettes with almost no nicotine right from the start—did better in all those measures than Group B. In 2015, a smaller study had the same result.

These studies suggest that immediately lowering the amount of nicotine in cigarettes may save a lot of lives. If new regulations on nicotine go into effect, we’ll learn a lot more.

Learn more about why nicotine is so addictive.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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