Background: The American Medical Association (AMA) has advocated gradually reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes to decrease smoking prevalence. Some experts have voiced concerns that smokers may "compensate" by smoking more cigarettes or inhaling more deeply. Further, a black market may emerge, perpetuating cigarette availability. Thus, it is unclear whether a federal mandate would result in a net increase or decrease in population health. The purpose of this research is to estimate the long-term health gains or losses that are likely to accrue to the US population if the nicotine content of cigarettes is gradually reduced to trace levels over a 6-year period.
Methods: To estimate health impacts, we created the Tobacco Policy Model, a computer simulation model. The model simulates the US population as they age and change their smoking behavior over time. Secondary data for model parameters were obtained from publicly available sources. Population health impacts were measured as the change in cumulative quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) in the US population over 50 years.
Results: Following a mandate to reduce nicotine, smoking prevalence is likely to decline from 23% to 5% of the population. Accordingly, a cumulative gain of 157 million QALYs is expected over 50 years.
Conclusions: Despite any mortality increases due to compensatory smoking or the emergence of a black market, implementation of the AMA proposal would likely prevent the addiction of scores of new smokers and result in important gains to the nation's health. This research should prove useful to Congress as they contemplate giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco.