Lowering nicotine levels, use of e-cigarettes and raising cigarette prices associated with smoking cessation

FDA proposes lowering nicotine in cigarettes

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have waged a war against smoking and now new steps are in place to help quitters go ahead and stop smoking.

Quit smoking - Image Credit: Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock
Quit smoking - Image Credit: Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock

One of the proposals is to lower the nicotine content in the cigarettes. This lower content would help smokers to smoke less and move towards complete cessation. Scott Gottlieb, the head of the FDA, is himself a doctor as well as a cancer survivor. According to him, most of the deaths and diseases associated with smoking are due to the nicotine content in the cigarettes. The dependency or addition to smoking is due to this chemical nicotine that is present in the tobacco plant he explained. It is this nicotine that prevents people from being able to give up smoking. Cigarettes, according to Gottleib, are the only legal products available that kill half of its users over long term use. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cigarette smoking is one of the largest threats to public health. Over seven million people are killed from smoking each year globally says WHO. There are over 6 million deaths from direct smoking and 890,000 deaths due to passive smoking.

Public comments are being invited on this proposed step to reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes. Thirteen members of the U.S. Senate wrote to the US FDA to bring about this change as soon as possible. The letter was forwarded by Senator Patty Murray from the western state of Washington.

In fact a study on these lines does exist. Jennifer Tidey, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University in Rhode Island, with her team worked on a study with her colleagues a couple of years back. Their work involved over 800 smokers who were given cigarettes with different levels of nicotine over a six-week period. Results showed that lower-nicotine cigarettes helped smokers to smoke less and eventually quit smoking. The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

E-cigarette users quit earlier than those who smoke traditional cigarettes

A new study has shown that over half of the users of e-cigarettes quit smoking over the five years of use. Further those who used e-cigarettes daily were three times more likely to quit that those who did not use them. Relapses into smoking are also fewer with e cigarette users compared to traditional smokers.

Researchers for this study looked at data from the 2014 and 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) including current smokers and former smokers who quit in 2010 or later. The sample of participants was 15,532 strong. Results showed that around a fourth of all participants were former smokers. E cigarette users quit more than traditional smokers with rates at 52.2% vs. 28.2%. Those who used e-cigarettes infrequently were more likely to be former smokers (around 12 percent).

Authors on this study concluded that frequent e-cigarette use may play a role in cessation of smoking. The study appeared in the current issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors led by Daniel Giovenco from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Sociomedical Sciences.

Raise the prices of cigarettes to help smokers quit

Researchers from Drexel University have found that smokers are 20 percent more likely to stop smoking when the prices of the cigarettes are raised by just $1. The study appears in the August issue of the journal Epidemiology. It looked at the association of smoking cessation with neighborhood-level price data on cigarettes.

Stephanie Mayne, a former doctoral student at Drexel and now a fellow at Northwestern University explained that older adult smokers who have been smoking for a long time tend to have lower rates of smoking cessation when compared to younger smokers. This means that smoking habit among the older ones is deeper and more difficult to change. However even among these veteran smokers, the cigarette taxes and raised prices have been contributing to smoking cessation finds the study. This means that prices are that “lever” that could bring about the “behavior change” say the researchers.

For the study the researchers looked at smokers between ages of 44 and 84 from six different areas in the United States, including the Bronx, Chicago. The data came from the 2002 to 2012 Multi-Ethnic Study of Artherosclerosis, or MESA.

Results showed that smokers were 20 percent more likely to quit smoking if the price of a pack of cigarettes increased by a dollar. Further this price raise also reduced the overall smoking risk by 3 percent. When they looked at heavy smokers alone, there was a 7 percent reduction in smoking risk with the price rise. The average number of cigarettes smoked per day also reduced by 35 percent. This was comparable to the 19 percent reduction among the whole smoker population studied. Mayne said heavy smokers smoke more cigarettes per day at the start of the study. This means that they feel the brunt of the price rise more than the others. This translates to cutting down on smoking. Older smokers over 44 had also shown a significant change in smoking habits compared to the younger smokers.

The study concludes that raising prices of cigarettes could be an effective way to encourage smoking cessation among all age groups and also reduce new smokers from taking up the habit.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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