Cigarette Smoking and Cognitive Task Performance: Experimental Effects of Very-Low Nicotine-Content Cigarettes

Brian R. Katz, Diann E. Gaalema, Julie A. Dumas, Sarah H. Heil, Stacey C. Sigmon, Jennifer W. Tidey, Dustin C. Lee, Michael DeSarno, Stephen T. Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reductions in the nicotine content of cigarettes decrease smoking rate and dependence severity, but effects on cognition are less well established. The potential impacts of very-low nicotine-content (VLNC) cigarettes on cognitive task performance must be evaluated, especially in vulnerable populations. The aim of the present study is to experimentally examine the effects of VLNC cigarettes on cognitive performance. Adults who smoked daily (n = 775) from three vulnerable populations (socioeconomically disadvantaged reproductive-age women, individuals with opioid use disorder, affective disorders) were examined. Participants were randomly assigned to normal nicotine content (NNC; 15.8 mg nicotine/g tobacco) or VLNC (2.4 mg/g or 0.4 mg/g) cigarettes for 12 weeks. Response inhibition (stop-signal task), working memory (n-back task; n of 2 − n of 0), and cognitive interference (nicotine Stroop task) were assessed at baseline, 2, 6, and 12 weeks. Results were analyzed using mixed-model repeated-measures analyses of variance. Extended exposure to VLNC cigarettes produced no significant changes in any measure of cognitive performance compared to NNC cigarettes. Over weeks, response times on the n-back task decreased across doses. No significant effects were observed on the stop-signal or nicotine Stroop tasks. All three vulnerable populations performed comparably on all three cognitive tasks. Extended exposure to VLNC cigarettes produced no impairments in cognitive performance on any of the assessed tasks compared to NNC cigarettes. These findings are consistent with the larger literature detailing other consequences following exposure to VLNC cigarettes and are encouraging for the adoption of a nicotine-reduction policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • cognitive performance
  • nicotine
  • nicotine reduction
  • very-low nicotine-content cigarettes
  • vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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