A spokeswoman for Vector Group, who would not give her name, said the company is developing this idea to give smokers a nonaddictive option.
"Initial tests with focus groups have shown that (low-nicotine cigarettes) smoke and taste just like regular cigarettes, but we believe it will have the least amount of nicotine as any cigarettes on the market right now," she said.
She added that in addition to giving smokers a new choice, the lack of nicotine eliminates the risk of nitrosamines, which cause cancer.
It is unknown when the new tobacco strain will reach market since it still needs approval from the Food and Drug Administration -- a process that can take years.
Jed Rose, director of the nicotine research program at Duke University, said studies involving the reduced-nicotine cigarettes have shown that they help smokers quit.
He said the tobacco has been tested two ways -- by allowing smokers to gradually switch from their regular cigarettes to the low-nicotine ones or by abruptly making the switch with the aid of a nicotine patch.
"Either way, about half the sample could make the switch," Rose said. "This shows the habit component is important, and smokers can switch over if they are motivated to do so."
He said the low-nicotine cigarettes are an efficient means of weaning people off smoking, but he added that smokers still found it difficult to quit completely.
"We're hoping to test a more gradual weaning process to get them to slowly move to the low nicotine cigarettes," Rose said.
Low-nicotine cigarettes currently on the market work by reducing the amount of smoke inhaled and the amount of nicotine smokers consume -- causing smokers to overcompensate by smoking more cigarettes.
But, according to Rose, the new low-nicotine cigarettes will alleviate this problem.
"Since nicotine isn't in the tobacco to begin with, (smokers) get a good amount of smoke and don't feel the need to compensate by smoking more cigarettes," he said.
Patrick Reynolds, founder and president of tobaccofree.org, also said the reduced-nicotine cigarettes seem like an efficient tool for fighting tobacco addiction.
Reynolds is the grandson of local tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds. He founded tobaccofree.org after his father died of a smoking-related illness.
"A nicotine-free cigarette is a clear step in the right direction," he said. "One wonders why the larger companies haven't made a nicotine-free cigarette already."
The State & National Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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