Low Nicotine Content Descriptors Reduce Perceived Health Risks and Positive Cigarette Ratings in Participants Using Very Low Nicotine Content Cigarettes

Nicotine Tob Res. 2017 Oct 1;19(10):1149-1154. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntw320.


Introduction: Understanding how smokers perceive reduced nicotine content cigarettes will be important if the FDA and global regulatory agencies implement reduced nicotine product standards for cigarettes. Prior research has shown that some smokers incorrectly believe "light" cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes. Similar misunderstandings of health risk could also apply to reduced nicotine cigarettes. To date, most studies of reduced nicotine cigarettes have blinded subjects to the nicotine content. Therefore, little is known about how smokers experience reduced nicotine content cigarettes when they are aware of the reduced content, and how use may be impacted.

Methods: The present study was a within-subjects experiment with 68 adult daily smokers who smoked two identical very low nicotine content Quest 3 (0.05 mg nicotine yield) cigarettes. Subjects were told that one cigarette contained "average" nicotine content, and the other contained "very low" nicotine content. After smoking each cigarette, subjects completed subjective measures about their smoking experience.

Results: Subjects rated the "very low" nicotine cigarette as less harmful to their health overall compared to the "average" nicotine cigarette; this effect held true for specific smoking-related diseases. Additionally, they rated the "very low" nicotine cigarette as having less desirable subjective effects than the "average" nicotine cigarette and predicted having greater interest in quitting smoking in the future if only the "very low" nicotine cigarette was available.

Conclusions: Explicit knowledge of very low nicotine content changes smokers' perceptions of very low nicotine content cigarettes, resulting in reduced predicted harm, subjective ratings and predicted future use.

Implications: Before a reduced nicotine product standard for cigarettes can be implemented, it is important to understand how product information impacts how smokers think about and experience very low nicotine content cigarettes. Prior research has shown that smokers incorrectly believed light cigarettes were less harmful products. As such, smokers may also misunderstand the health risks associated with smoking very low nicotine content cigarettes. This study highlights the importance of smokers' perceptions of nicotine content in cigarettes on the perceived health risks and the subjective effects of smoking very low nicotine content cigarettes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advertising
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Product Labeling*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Tobacco Products / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotine