Objectives: We sought to determine if negative responses to reduced nicotine content (RNC) cigarettes during open-label trials result from smokers' (negative) expectancies. We examined the effects of nicotine content description – independent of actual nicotine content – on subjective responses (craving reduction, withdrawal suppression, mood changes, and sensory ratings) and smoking behaviors (topography measures and carbon monoxide [CO] boost).
Methods: Thirty-six 12-hour-abstinent daily smokers completed a 3-session crossover trial. During each session, participants smoked their preferred brand cigarette – blinded and described as containing “usual,” “low,” and “very low” nicotine content – through a topography device and completed CO and subjective response assessments.
Results: Although nicotine content was identical, compared to the “usual” content cigarette, participants experienced less craving reduction after smoking the “very low” nicotine cigarette, and rated its smoke as weaker (p < .05). Participants took shallower puffs of the “low” nicotine cigarette (p < .05), and rated the “low” and “very low” nicotine cigarettes as weaker and too mild (p < .01).
Conclusions: Negative responses to RNC cigarettes may be due, in part, to negative expectancies about using cigarettes containing less nicotine. In this context, RNC cigarette marketing and labeling are likely important considerations if a federal nicotine reduction policy is initiated.