A Randomized Controlled Trial of Progressively Reduced Nicotine Content Cigarettes on Smoking Behaviors, Biomarkers of Exposure, and Subjective Ratings

June 30, 2016

Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania

Mercincavage et al. – July 2016, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-15-1088

Key Takeaways

  • The lowest reduced nicotine level cigarette tested (0.05 mg nicotine yield) may reduce harm exposure
  • Use of VLNC cigarettes decreased daily consumption, as well as nicotine and toxicant exposure, relative to use of moderate nicotine content cigarettes
  • Funded by the National Institutes of Health


  • Background: The U.S. FDA has the authority to reduce cigarette nicotine content if found to benefit public health. Reduced nicotine content (RNC) cigarette use does not appear to increase harm exposure, but studies have not rigorously assessed smoking behavior or used a comprehensive panel of biomarkers. This study examined the effects of progressively decreasing RNC cigarettes on smoking behaviors, biomarkers of exposure, and subjective ratings.
  • Methods: One hundred and fifty-eight daily, non–treatment-seeking smokers participated in a 35-day randomized, unblinded, parallel study. After a 5-day baseline period, participants were randomly assigned to an experimental group (n = 80) that smoked progressively decreasing RNC cigarettes during three 10-day periods, or control group (n = 78) that smoked their own brand throughout the study.
  • Results: Daily cigarette consumption significantly increased for the intermediate RNCs (P's < 0.001) but approached baseline rate for the lowest RNC (P = 0.686); in contrast, puffing behavior significantly decreased at intermediate levels and increased for the lowest RNC (P's < 0.001). Cotinine and NNAL significantly decreased by RNC period (P's ≤ 0.001–0.02), whereas CO boost initially increased (P's = 0.001–0.005). 1-HOP did not change by period (P = 0.109).
  • Conclusions: Smoking behaviors changed by RNC period via CPD and puffing behavior. Biomarkers of exposure generally decreased with nicotine content.