Q: Would this include reducing the nicotine in e-cigarettes?
No, e-cigarettes would be specifically excluded. E-cigarettes containing nicotine give smokers the opportunity to switch to a less harmful product and their availability is a step in the right direction. Reducing the nicotine in combustible tobacco products compliments the availability of e-cigarettes and will also help those that wouldn’t be able to quit with e-cigarettes alone.
Q: How much would nicotine in cigarettes be reduced anyway?
Reducing nicotine to a fraction of their current level, from around 15mg/g to 0.4mg/g, would give smokers the greatest chance to quit and significantly reduce the likelihood of young people picking up a lifelong habit. At this level regular smokers are twice as likely to report trying to quit and smoke fewer cigarettes (1, 2).
Q: Won’t smokers just compensate by smoking more cigarettes or inhaling more deeply?
All of the research to date shows that smokers don’t compensate when nicotine is reduced to non-addictive levels (3). Reducing nicotine to very low levels makes it almost impossible for smokers to compensate by smoking more cigarettes or inhaling more deeply.
Q: This sounds like something that’d be quite unpopular, right?
Actually, 80% of smokers surveyed in New Zealand would support reducing nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels (3). This isn’t surprising, most smokers want to quit.
Q: Wouldn’t New Zealand be the first in the world to do this?
Yep, but that’s not a reason why we shouldn’t do it. We’d be a world leader, just like when we were the first country to give women the vote. The US FDA has also proposed to do the same, but it’d be great to beat them to it.
Q: Is it even technically possible to reduce the nicotine in cigarettes to levels that low?
Definitely, tobacco companies have been doing it for decades and there are multiple ways to reduce the amount of nicotine in tobacco (5).
Q: When should this come into force?
As soon as possible! Postponing this any longer than absolutely necessary only means that many thousands of lives would be shortened by an addiction this measure could have prevented.
1. Donny, E. C., Denlinger, R. L., Tidey, J. W., Koopmeiners, J. S., Benowitz, N. L., Vandrey, R. G., … & Drobes, D. J. (2015). Randomized trial of reduced-nicotine standards for cigarettes. New England Journal of Medicine, 373(14), 1340-1349.
2. Donny, E. C., Houtsmuller, E., & Stitzer, M. L. (2007). Smoking in the absence of nicotine: behavioral, subjective and physiological effects over 11 days. Addiction, 102(2), 324-334.
3. See e.g., Donny, EC, et al., “Randomized trial of reduced-nicotine standards for cigarettes,” New England Journal of Medicine, 373: 1340-1349, 2015. Hatsukami, DK, et al., “Compensatory smoking from gradual and immediate reduction in cigarette nicotine content,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 24: 472-476, Benowitz, NL, et al., “Smoking behavior and exposure to tobacco toxicants during 6 months of smoking progressively reduced nicotine content cigarettes,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention , 21: 761-769, 2012.Hatsukami, DK, et al., “Nicotine reduction revisited: science and future directions,” Tobacco Control, 19: e1-10, 2010. Hatsukami, DK, et al., “Reduced nicotine content cigarettes: effects on toxicant exposure, dependence and cessation,” Addiction, 105: 343-355, 2010.
4. McKiernan, A., Stanley, J., Waa, A. M., Kaai, S. C., Quah, A. C., Fong, G. T., & Edwards, R. (2019). Beliefs among Adult Smokers and Quitters about Nicotine and De-nicotinized Cigarettes in the 2016-17 ITC New Zealand Survey. Tobacco Regulatory Science, 5(5), 400-409.
5. Tengs, T.O., et al., “The AMA proposal to mandate nicotine reduction in cigarettes: a simulation of the population health impacts,” Preventive Medicine, 40: 170-180, 2005.