Responses to Gradual and Immediate Reduction of Nicotine in Cigarettes in Young Versus Older Adult Smokers

Rachel N. Cassidy, Jennifer W. Tidey, Qing Cao, Suzanne M. Colby, Francis J. McClernon, Tracy T. Smith, Sarah Dermody, Joseph S. Koopmeiners, Joni A Jensen, Lori S Strayer, Eric C. Donny, Dorothy Hatsukami

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5 Scopus citations


Introduction: As the FDA works to determine whether a nicotine reduction policy would benefit public health, one key question is whether to mandate an immediate or gradual reduction in nicotine levels in cigarettes. The aim of this study was to determine whether the effects of gradual versus immediate nicotine reduction on cigarettes per day (CPD), total nicotine equivalents, and subjective responses differed in younger adults versus older adults. Methods: Using data from a recent randomized trial conducted in the United States (N = 1250) that switched smokers over a 20-week period to very low nicotine content (VLNC) cigarettes either immediately, gradually (via monthly reductions in nicotine content), or not at all (control condition, normal nicotine content research cigarette), we analyzed the moderating effect of age (age 18-24 or 25+). Results: For both age groups, CPD in the immediate condition was significantly lower relative to gradual condition (estimated mean difference of 6.3 CPD in young adults, 5.2 CPD in older adults; p's <. 05). Younger and older adults in the immediate and gradual reduction conditions had lower total nicotine equivalents at Week 20 (all p's <. 05) than those in the control condition; age group did not moderate this effect. Positive subjective responses to cigarettes were lower among young adults relative to older adults in the immediate condition. Conclusions: These results indicate that an immediate reduction in nicotine would result in beneficial effects in both young and older adults. Young adults show less positive subjective effects of smoking following switching to VLNC cigarettes relative to older adults. Implications: As researchers work to understand how a potential reduced-nicotine product standard for cigarettes may affect public health, one question is whether nicotine should be reduced immediately or gradually. This study demonstrates that both young and older adults who were switched immediately to the lowest content of nicotine smoked fewer CPD and had lower nicotine intake than those in the gradual condition. Furthermore, young adults appear to show lower positive subjective effects following switching to VLNC cigarettes relative to older adults. This is consistent with previous work demonstrating that young people appear to show lower abuse liability for VLNC cigarettes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1559-1566
Number of pages8
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

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© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:


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