Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Brown Explores Health Risk Perceptions in Those Using Very Low Nicotine Content Cigarettes

One possible strategy for reducing the harm caused by cigarettes is to implement a product standard requiring the reduction of nicotine content to make cigarettes less addictive. This could decrease youth uptake if fewer progress from experimentation to addiction, increase smoking cessation, and reduce smoke exposure in those unable to quit. However, this shift may carry with it unintended consequences, like a change in smokers’ beliefs about the health risks associated with smoking. Prior research has shown that some smokers incorrectly believe ‘light’ cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes. Similar misunderstandings of health risk could also apply to reduced nicotine cigarettes. Little is known about how smokers experience reduced nicotine content cigarettes when they are aware of the reduced content, and how use may be impacted.

[Photo: Ms. Rachel Denlinger-Apte]

The purpose of this study, led by Ms. Rachel Denlinger-Apte, current PhD student in the department of behavioral and social health sciences, was to investigate the effect of a very low nicotine content expectancy on health risk perceptions and subjective effects of smoking cigarettes with actual low nicotine content. Participants in this study smoked two identical very low nicotine cigarettes, but were told one cigarette contained “average” nicotine content, while the other contained “very low” nicotine content. After smoking each cigarette, participants completed subjective measures about their smoking experience.

The researchers found that subjects rated the “very low” nicotine cigarette as less harmful to their health overall compared to the “average” nicotine cigarette; this effect held true for specific smoking-related diseases. Additionally, they rated the “very low” nicotine cigarette as having less desirable subjective effects than the “average” nicotine cigarette and predicted having greater interest in quitting smoking in the future if only the “very low” nicotine cigarette was available.

This study illustrates how important smokers’ perceptions of nicotine content in cigarettes are on their subjective smoking ratings as well as their comprehension of the health risks associated with the product. Understanding how smokers perceive very low nicotine content cigarettes is important for maximizing the public health impact of regulated reductions in the nicotine content of combustive tobacco products while minimizing unintended consequences.

This study was published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 2016 (ahead of print).

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