Very Low Nicotine Content Cigarettes Disrupt the Feedback Loop of Affective States and Smoking Behavior

Nicotine Tob Res. 2020 Jul 16;22(8):1294-1300. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntz209.


Introduction: Smoking to reduce negative affect has been identified as a key motivational feature of tobacco use. Our recent work suggests that smoking very low nicotine content (VLNC) cigarettes reduces the relationship between negative affect and smoking behavior over a 6-week period. Here, we sought to extend our findings by evaluating whether a gradual or immediate approach to switching to VLNC cigarettes led to a differential reduction in the relationship between affect and smoking behavior over a longer (20-week) period.

Aims and methods: Participants (n = 1250) were adult smokers from 10 US sites randomized to one of three groups: gradual nicotine reduction (15.5, 11.7, 5.2, 2.4, and 0.4 mg of nicotine per gram of tobacco [mg/g]), immediate nicotine reduction (0.4 mg/g), or standard nicotine content cigarettes (15.5 mg/g; control), for 20 weeks. We examined whether the relationship between affect-both negative and positive-and cigarettes per day differed as a function of reduction group.

Results: We found that both negative and positive affect were associated with cigarette consumption in the control group, but not in the gradual or immediate reduction groups across the 20 weeks of exposure.

Conclusions: Our results extend previous findings that switching to VLNC cigarettes disrupts the relationship between affect and cigarette consumption by showing that either gradually or immediately reducing cigarette nicotine content achieves this disruption. These findings provide further evidence that switching to VLNC cigarettes reduces nicotine-related reinforcement of cigarette smoking.

Implications: These findings support the notion that switching to very low nicotine content cigarettes reduces the association between affect and smoking behavior, and that either a gradual or immediate nicotine reduction approach achieves this reduction. This provides further evidence that switching to very low nicotine content cigarettes weakens reinforcement mechanisms associated with nicotine dependence.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cigarette Smoking / epidemiology
  • Cigarette Smoking / psychology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions
  • Feedback*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Smokers / psychology*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking Cessation / methods
  • Tobacco Products / statistics & numerical data
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotine