A nicotine reduction strategy should be an urgent research priority because of its potential to profoundly reduce the death and disease from tobacco use, six leading tobacco research and policy experts have concluded.
Over time, the move could dramatically reduce the number of annual deaths related to cigarette smoking by decreasing adolescent experimentation with cigarettes preventing a progression to addiction, and by reducing dependence on tobacco among currently addicted smokers of all ages.
"Nicotine addiction sustains tobacco use. Quitting tobacco can be as difficult to overcome as heroin or cocaine addiction," said Dorothy Hatsukami at University of Minnesota Medical School.
"Reducing the nicotine in cigarettes to a level that is non-addicting could have a profound impact on reducing death and disability related to cigarettes and improving overall public health," she added.
Hatsukami added that according to earlier studies, substantial reduction in nicotine in cigarettes does not lead to smokers smoking lower-nicotine cigarettes because it is harder to compensate for very low nicotine intake.
"The public health impact of this would be enormous if we can prevent youthful experimentation from progressing to regular smoking, addiction, and the resulting premature disease and death later. Reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes may be a very effective way to accomplish this major impact," said Mitch Zeller, J.D., Pinney Associates in Bethesda.
Hatsukami, Zeller, and their colleagues recommend engaging scientific, research and government agencies to conduct the necessary research and set priorities and goals as the next step toward determining the feasibility of a nicotine reduction approach.