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Lower Nicotine Cigarettes May Reduce Addiction


A University of North Carolina Medical School professor says secondhand smoke causes many diseases in children, and exposing them to smoke should therefore be treated as abusive behavior.

A University of North Carolina Medical School professor says secondhand smoke causes many diseases in children, and exposing them to smoke should therefore be treated as abusive behavior.

Nicotine is highly addictive. It is also the main reason quitting smoking is so difficult. Now, a new study suggests that selling only cigarettes with very low nicotine levels may actually help people stop smoking.

In some countries, more than 50 percent of all men smoke cigarettes or use another tobacco product. Experts say nearly half of them will die of cancer. That adds up to about 20 billion deaths worldwide so far this century.

A national study shows that if the amount of nicotine in cigarettes is reduced, it might help smokers quit.

For the study, U.S. researchers gathered more than 800 smokers across the country.

Some of the participants were given very low-nicotine cigarettes. They did not know it at the time. The other participants smoked their usual brand of cigarettes. The study took six weeks.

The participants who used their usual cigarettes smoked between 22 and 21 cigarettes per day. Participants who smoked cigarettes containing much less nicotine smoked just 14 to 16 cigarettes a day.

Smokers who got the lower nicotine cigarettes did not feel the usual withdrawal symptoms. Some of them even went on to quit smoking entirely.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine makes the case for regulating nicotine as a way to help people quit smoking. Tobacco researcher Michael Fiore was not involved in the study, but he wrote an article in the journal.

"Way back in 1976, an early and famous tobacco researcher said the following: People smoke for the nicotine but they die from the tar.' And that tar results from burning tobacco. Thus if we could somehow disassociate these two, and wean people off deadly tar, then we could prevent tens of millions of deaths over time."

David Tinkelman is Medical Director of Health Initiatives at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado. He finds it interesting-- the idea of marketing cigarettes with very low nicotine.

But he notes that cigarette replacements have not reduced nicotine addiction or tobacco use. Cigarette replacements include electronic or e-cigarettes, in which smokers inhale water vapor containing nicotine.

"There are many studies which show that e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine, don't actually help a lot of people break their addiction to tobacco or help people get off of cigarettes. What happens is they switch addictions. They are just taking it a different way."

Both Mr. Tinkelman and Mr. Fiore agree. They say more studies are needed to show whether low nicotine cigarettes help smokers kick the habit.

In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law regulating nicotine. It permitted regulators to require that only cigarettes with very low nicotine levels can be sold in the United States.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to act on that law.

I’m Anne Ball.

Jessica Berman reported this story. Marsha James adapted it into Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Do you smoke? Do you think lower-nicotine cigarettes would help you quit? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook group.

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Words in This Story

nicotine – n. the poisonous substance in tobacco that makes it difficult for people to stop smoking

fraction n. a small portion of something

disassociate – v. disconnect or separate

wean offphrasal verb - to make someone or something stop doing or using something

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