UVM researchers contributing to FDA nicotine studies

Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 9:50 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The FDA is working on a proposal they hope will curb nicotine addiction, and University of Vermont researchers are contributing to that effort.

“Cigarette smoking -- that’s the largest killer in terms of tobacco products. In the United States alone, almost 500,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses,” said Stephen Higgins with UVM’s Vermont Center on Behavior and Health.

For decades, researchers at the center, part of UVM’s Larner College of Medicine, have done various studies involving tobacco and nicotine products. Now, they’re helping the FDA examine how lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes and e-cigarettes affect people’s need to smoke.

“What they want to know from us is, A -- if you take the nicotine content down in cigarettes, is it likely to decrease the use of cigarettes? Are people who currently smoke more likely to decrease how much they smoke or want to quit smoking? Or, could it stop people from taking on smoking? And we are focused on the first part of that,” Higgins said.

They are conducting a remote study looking for men and women 21 to 70 years old who already smoke at least five cigarettes a day and don’t want to quit. Researchers will give them e-cigarettes and other nicotine products to use for about 20 weeks, but not everyone will get the same amount of nicotine. Researchers will then watch for several things including mood changes, blood pressure, and carbon monoxide in the lungs.

“The FDA doesn’t want to go into a national policy and have any anticipated adverse effects,” Higgins said.

Researchers don’t want to completely remove nicotine so that smokers in recovery from substance abuse disorder don’t go back to their previous drug of choice.

We spoke with some smokers about why they light up and most tell us it’s to help with stress. “Actually, that’s my go-to crutch, because I don’t care for alcohol really and I’m certainly not into any hard core drugs or anything,” said Amy Pawluk of Shelburne.

“If I could stop, I would, because I did for a while and I felt great. But I also have super anxiety and the nicotine helps that,” said Jon Maxfield of Johnson.

Higgins says if these studies prove that cutting nicotine levels will reduce smoking nationwide, the FDA will move forward with its plan.

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