Switching to Progressively Reduced Nicotine Content Cigarettes in Smokers with Low Socioeconomic Status: A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial

Nicolle M. Krebs, Junjia Zhu, Emily Wasserman, Robin Kuprewicz, Diane J. Martinez, Susan Veldheer, Craig Livelsberger, Jennifer Modesto, Lisa Reinhart, Neil Trushin, Samantha M. Reilly, Jason Liao, Alyse Fazzi, Rebecca Bascom, John P. Richie, Jonathan Foulds, Kimberly Horn, Joshua E. Muscat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Introduction: The Food and Drug Administration issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for setting a product standard for nicotine levels in cigarettes, with an emphasis on minimally or non-Addicting very low nicotine content (VLNC). Methods: A 33 week, two-Arm, double-blind randomized trial conducted in Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA and Washington, DC, USA included adult daily cigarette smokers (≥5 cigarettes per day) with less than a college degree, and who had no plans to quit within the next six months. Participants were randomized to either reduced nicotine content (RNC) study cigarettes tapered every three weeks to a final VLNC (0.2 mg/cigarette) for six weeks or to usual nicotine content (UNC) study cigarettes (11.6 mg/cigarette). Outcomes included acceptability of study cigarettes measured by attrition (primary outcome), compliance, reduction in cigarette dependence and tobacco biomarkers, and post-intervention cessation. Results: The RNC (n = 122) versus UNC (n = 123) group had higher attrition (adjusted Hazard Ratio 3.4; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.99 to 5.81). At the end of the intervention, cotinine levels were 50% lower in the RNC group (mean group difference-137 ng/mL; 95% CI-172,-102). The RNC group smoked fewer CPD (-4.1; 95% CI-6.44,-1.75) and had lower carbon monoxide levels (-4.0 ppm; 95% CI-7.7,-0.4). Forty seven percent (29/62) of the RNC group were biochemically-confirmed compliant with smoking VLNC cigarettes (mean cotinine = 8.9 ng/ml). At three month follow-up, only compliant VLNC smokers quit with an assisted quit attempt (N = 6/22, 27%). Conclusions: This study supports a VLNC standard in cigarettes. Implications: Differential dropout and noncompliance indicate some smokers had difficulty transitioning to cigarettes with reduced nicotine. These smokers will benefit from supplemental nicotine in medicinal or noncombustible tobacco products if a nicotine reduction standard is established. Other smokers successfully transitioned to very low nicotine content cigarettes exclusively and substantially reduced their exposure to nicotine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)992-1001
Number of pages10
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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