Large reductions in nicotine content could dramatically reduce reinforcement from and dependence on cigarettes. In this article, we summarise the potential benefits of reducing nicotine in combusted tobacco and address some of the common concerns. We focus specifically on New Zealand because it may be ideally situated to implement such a policy. The available data suggest that, in current smokers, very low nicotine content (VLNC) cigarettes decrease nicotine exposure, decrease cigarette dependence, reduce the number of cigarettes smoked per day and increase the likelihood of contemplating, making and succeeding at a quit attempt. New smokers would almost certainly be exposed to far less nicotine as a result of smoking VLNC cigarettes and, consequently, would probably be less likely to become chronic, dependent, smokers. Many of the concerns about reducing nicotine including compensatory smoking, an exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms, the perception that VLNC cigarettes are less harmful, and the potential for a black market are either not supported by the available data, likely mitigated by other factors including the availability of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, or unlikely to offset the potential benefit to public health. Although not all concerns have been addressed or can be a priori, the magnitude of the potential benefits and the growing evidence of relatively few potential harms should make nicotine reduction one of the centrepieces for discussion of how to rapidly advance tobacco control. Policies that aim to render the most toxic tobacco products less addictive could help New Zealand attain their goal of becoming smokefree by 2025.
- End game
- Harm Reduction
- Public policy
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