The Impact of Smoking Very Low Nicotine Content Cigarettes on Alcohol Use.

February 25, 2016

Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh

Dermody et al. – March 2016, Alcoholism, Clinical & Experimental Research. 40:606-615

Key Takeaways

  • A reduced nicotine product standard could positively impact related health risk behaviors like drinking
  • Compensatory drinking is unlikely to occur in response to switching to VLNC cigarettes and reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes may reduce alcohol consumption
  • Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) (grant id: U54 DA031659) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (grant id: F31AA022291)


  • Background: Reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes could improve public health by reducing smoking and toxicant exposure, but may also have unintended consequences on alcohol use. The primary objective of this study was to examine the effect of reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes on alcohol outcomes. The secondary aim was to examine whether the effects of these cigarettes on alcohol outcomes were mediated by changes in nicotine exposure, smoking behavior, or withdrawal.
  • Methods: Between June 2013 and July 2014, we conducted a 7-arm, double-blind, randomized clinical trial at 10 U.S.-based sites. Daily smokers not currently interested in quitting (n = 839) were assigned to equally sized groups to smoke for 6 weeks cigarettes containing either normal nicotine content (NNC; 15.8 mg/g, 9 mg tar), moderate nicotine content (5.2 mg/g nicotine, 9 mg tar), or very low nicotine content (VLNC; 0.4 to 2.4 mg/g, 9 to 13 mg tar). This investigation focused on a subsample of current drinkers (n = 403). Each reduced nicotine content cigarette condition was compared to the NNC control condition with respect to trajectories over the 6-week period of average daily alcohol use and occurrence of binge drinking. Moderating variables were considered. Mediation analyses tested potential explanatory processes including changes in nicotine exposure, cigarettes per day, and withdrawal.
  • Results: Over time, reduced nicotine exposure and smoking rate mediated effects of VLNC cigarette use on reduced alcohol use. There was no evidence of compensatory drinking in response to nicotine reduction or nicotine withdrawal, even among subgroups expected to be at greater risk (e.g., relatively heavier drinkers, highly nicotine-dependent individuals).
  • Conclusions: The findings suggest that compensatory drinking is unlikely to occur in response to switching to VLNC cigarettes. In contrast, reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes may reduce alcohol use ( number, NCT01681875).