It’s difficult for some coffee drinkers to imagine life before decaf. Pretty soon it may be difficult for some smokers to imagine life before de-nic. A New York company called 22nd Century Limited recently announced that it is making progress in its development of a very low nicotine (VLN) cigarette that uses a specially engineered and proprietary form of tobacco.
Regular “light” cigarette brands contain 20 times the amount of nicotine as VLN cigarettes, a release by the manufacturer states. Even low nicotine cigarettes contain about 8 times more nicotine than a VLN cigarette.
Studies have shown that “Differences in nicotine content of cigarettes have significant implications for compensatory smoking, dependence, and efficacy in smoking cessation,” according to the manufacturer.
Research conducted so far indicates that VLN cigarettes may prove to be one of the most effective smoking cessation inventions yet. Although VLN cigarettes have yet to be tested in large clinical trials, they have been tested in a number of smaller, independent studies. In each of the studies, VLN cigarettes increased quit rates, whether they were used exclusively or in combination with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches.
A University of Minnesota trial suggested that using VLN cigarettes alone boosted smoking cessation success rates more than NRT.
43 percent of patients who used VLN cigarettes exclusively continued to be smoke-free after 4 weeks of continuous abstinence. The success rate for patients using NRT was just 28 percent.
A pair of studies conducted at Duke University, which set out to measure and compare the strength of nicotine cravings with the actual smoking habit, supported these findings.
The Duke studies found that the urge to light a cigarette is sometimes “more compelling than the physical need for a nicotine fix.”
In light of that finding, it’s no surprise that researchers found VLN cigarettes more effective in helping smokers to quit than NRT. VLN cigarettes gradually wean the body from nicotine as the user smokes. With NRT, the smoker stops smoking altogether but continues to feed the body nicotine, usually to “take the edge off” of smoking cravings. Very commonly, however, ex-smokers end up addicted to various forms of NRT even though they have successfully quit smoking.
Another smoking cessation approach, of course, is to use pharmaceutical therapies such as Chantix or Zyban (also known as Wellbutrin). One problem, however, is that these drugs don’t adequately address the habitual side of smoking. They may mitigate the effects of nicotine withdrawal, but after the quit date, the patient is left to cope with the sudden absence of a psychological “crutch.”
More importantly, however, is the safety factor. Because they already smoke, people who use VLN cigarettes do not introduce any new chemicals or other compounds to their bodies, thereby exposing themselves to a range of dangerous and occasionally deadly side effects.
Chantix has been linked to several side effects ranging from mild to severe and including:
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
- sore throat
- blistering, peeling skin rash
- nausea, vomiting
- stomach pain
- increased appetite
- unpleasant taste in mouth
- sleeping problems
- vivid and unusual dreams
- mood or behavior changes
- agitation, hostility, depression
- suicidal thoughts