Low Nicotine Cigarettes Trialled in US – Pointless?

Low Nicotine Cigarettes Trialled in US – Pointless?

Are low nicotine cigarettes really what smokers need?

7 July 2022 | Hannah Rubery

Low Nicotine Cigarettes Trialled in US – Pointless? (Image)

Low nicotine cigarettes have been around for quite some time, but they’ve seen a renewed interest in the battle against smoking. The main reason for this seems to be the FDA’s attempts at introducing alternative ways to quit smoking, without using vaping. For quite some time the FDA has tried to undermine the usefulness of vaping as a smoking cessation tool. And with many vape brands failing to be authorised for sale in the US, it comes as a surprise to learn that two brands of very low nicotine cigarettes have been authorised by the FDA.

Chicago trials low nicotine cigarettes as an alternative to vaping

Earlier this year in the US, the tobacco company began production for two brands of very low nicotine cigarettes – VLN King and VLN Menthol King. These are the first combustible cigarettes to be authorised by the FDA as a reduced-risk product. Now to do so, the FDA set out that the product must ‘significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco-related disease’. This sounds like a contradiction to the product considering that it still very much contains tobacco and requires burning said tobacco to consume.

Yet, Chicago is to play the test subject in the use of these very low nicotine cigarettes, to see if they help smokers quit. Their argument has been that with the much lower levels of nicotine in each cigarette, smokers will be able to reduce their nicotine intake to help them quit. There are a lot of reasons why this thought process is fallible.

Why the FDA authorising low nicotine cigarettes is harmful

Firstly, the focus on nicotine reduction although admirable, is not really harm reduction. There have been countless studies and scientific evidence that show the most harmful part of the cigarette is the tobacco and the burning of said tobacco. Through the process of burning tobacco, you are inhaling over 7000 harmful carcinogens which have been shown to cause cancer and various other harmful smoke-related health issues. Nicotine has not been correlated with these smoking-related illnesses.

Secondly, lowering the nicotine in a cigarette can only invite a smoker to burn through more cigarettes to try and satisfy the cravings they have. Smokers often have trouble quitting because of the addictive nature of nicotine. Studies that have investigated this effect noted that participants compensated for the low nicotine supply by smoking their own cigarettes, not just the low nicotine ones. Not only were smokers still smoking, but smoking even more than they would normally expose them to harmful carcinogens more often. There were of course talks of removing normal cigarettes and replacing them all with low nicotine variations, insinuating that smokers would turn to other nicotine methods to satisfy the cravings, but in the meantime, they would still be inhaling extremely harmful cigarette smoke.
Nicotine in cigarettes (Image)
The FDA have confirmed that these cigarettes are still harmful but the claim to them being much less harmful or reducing risk is highly debatable. Whereas in comparison, vaping has been widely recognised to be much less harmful than cigarettes but is still under harsh scrutiny by the FDA.

Why the focus on nicotine?

It is undeniable that nicotine is a highly addictive chemical, it’s also a sedative and a stimulant which is why smokers get pleasant feelings while smoking. It boosts your adrenaline, blood pressure, and heart rate which combine to create good feelings, higher concentration and even affects mood. Nicotine can cause a variety of side effects, as can nicotine withdrawal, but of all the extremely harmful smoking-related illnesses that arise from cigarettes, it is not the nicotine that causes them. So why focus on lowering nicotine?

By lowering nicotine strength, you are essentially weaning yourself off the addictive chemical. Using lower strengths while quitting can help stave off the most unpleasant aspects of nicotine withdrawal, and eventually make the habit one that is less rewarding, so you find it easier to stop smoking.

But this is achievable through much less harmful alternatives such as traditional NRTs like nicotine gum and patches or vaping which has a wide range of products that can help you lower your nicotine intake.

Though there is some harm associated with nicotine the real harm comes from burning tobacco, and it is this which should be reduced to create a real reduction in harm. Nicotine addiction can be difficult for many, but it is the thousands of cancer-causing carcinogens present in combustible cigarettes that should be of real concern. Do you think that low nicotine cigarettes could prove useful? Let us know in the comments below.