Potential effects of nicotine content in cigarettes on use of other substances

Diann E. Gaalema, L. Morgan Snell, Jennifer W. Tidey, Stacey C. Sigmon, Sarah H. Heil, Dustin C. Lee, Janice Y. Bunn, Claire Park, John R. Hughes, Stephen T. Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A national nicotine reduction policy has the potential to reduce cigarette smoking and associated adverse health impacts among vulnerable populations. However, possible unanticipated adverse effects of reducing nicotine content in cigarettes, such as increasing the use of alcohol or other abused substances, must be examined. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of exposure to varying doses of nicotine in cigarettes on use of other substances. This was a secondary analysis (n = 753) of three simultaneous, multisite, double-blind, randomized-controlled trials examining 12 weeks of exposure to study cigarettes varying in nicotine content (0.4, 2.4, 15.8 mg nicotine/g tobacco) among daily smokers from three vulnerable populations: individuals with affective disorders (n = 251), individuals with opioid use disorder (n = 256), and socioeconomically-disadvantaged women of reproductive age (n = 246). Effect of study cigarette assignment on urine toxicology screens (performed weekly) and responses to drug and alcohol use questionnaires (completed at study weeks 6 and 12) were examined using negative binomial regression, logistic regression, or repeated measures analysis of variance, controlling for sex, age, and menthol status. The most common substances identified using urine toxicology included tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; 44.8%), cocaine (9.2%), benzodiazepine (8.6%), and amphetamines (8.0%), with 57.2% of participants testing positive at least once for substance use (27.3% if excluding THC). No significant main effects of nicotine dose were found on any of the examined outcomes. These results suggest that reducing nicotine content does not systematically increase use of other substances, even among individuals at increased risk of substance use. ClinicalTrials.gov Identifiers: NCT02232737, NCT2250664, NCT2250534.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107290
JournalPreventive Medicine
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Nicotine reduction
  • Substance use
  • Vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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