'De-nicotinised' cigarettes could help NZ achieve Smokefree 2025 goal, study suggests

A new study suggests that a majority of smokers in New Zealand would support cigarettes containing less nicotine - so long as alternative sources of nicotine were available.

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Professor Richard Edwards discussed with Breakfast his international tobacco control study. Source: Breakfast

Professor Richard Edwards of the University of Otago's Department of Public Health released the findings of the study, which involved surveying current and recent smokers.

The survey was conducted by phone between August 2016 and April 2017, and a total of 1090 people were surveyed, including 363 who identified as Māori.

The results, which were released yesterday, showed that most participants - 74 per cent - were interested in trying low-nicotine or nicotine-free cigarettes, while 80 per cent supported introducing a law to reduce the nicotine levels in cigarettes, so long as alternative nicotine sources were available.

Almost all of those surveyed correctly believed that nicotine was the addictive substance in tobacco, but almost half wrongly believed that nicotine is the main cause of cancer in cigarettes.

Speaking this morning to TVNZ1's Breakfast programme, Mr Edwards said the findings would suggest de-nicotinised cigarettes could be a viable way of reaching New Zealand's Smokefree 2025 goal.

Mr Edwards said removing the nicotine from tobacco is very much possible, and that the US Federal Drug Administration is considering doing so as a policy measure.

"Most smokers want to quit, so if their cigarettes are less satisfying they might take this opportunity to say, 'Well that's it, I'm going to quit'," Mr Edwards said.

He said that many smokers, when confronted with cigarettes containing less or no nicotine, would likely opt to switch to other sources such as vaping.

The effects of vaping are still being ascertained, but Mr Edwards said that, compared with smoking tobacco, "its going to be less harmful".

"We don't know exactly how much less harmful, but it's certainly going to be less harmful than smoking," he said.

Mr Edwards said the fact nearly half of the participants believed nicotine was the cause of many cancers is "a common misconception".

"The main harmful component of cigarettes is the tar and the carbon monoxide," Mr Edwards said.

"The problem with smoking is not so much the nicotine, but the other things in the smoke."

Mr Edwards said the Government should be considering this idea as part of its goal to reduce smoke prevalence in New Zealand to near-zero by 2025.

"They've got a goal of Smokefree 2025 and we're not on track to achieve it."

The study can be read in full here.