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Prof receives $1.6 million grant to study smoking

A new experiment conducted by Jennifer Tidey, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior, will examine the effects of different nicotine levels in the cigarettes of depressed smokers.

Tidey’s research is part of a new federally funded project to research methods of lessening tobacco use. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health awarded $19.5 million to the University of Vermont as part of their new Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science Program.

Stacey Sigmon, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, said Brown researchers will receive $1.6 million to conduct their study, functioning as one of the project sites contributing to the larger federal research project.

Though the research at Brown focuses specifically on depressed smokers, other sites will evaluate the effect of low nicotine content in women of child-bearing age and smokers with multi-substance dependence.

Tidey’s study aims to find a nicotine level that will “reduce cigarette use without increasing puff intensity, worsening psychiatric symptoms or causing people to go back to their usual brand of cigarettes,” Tidey said in a University press release. If a person becomes accustomed to smoking cigarettes with smaller amounts of nicotine, he or she may find it easier to decrease dependency on the substance.

The FDA does not have the authority to ban the sale of nicotine products, but it can “regulate, among other things, the amount of nicotine in tobacco,” Tidey said. “There have been a handful of studies showing that if you do that, people will gradually reduce their smoking over a period of weeks to months,” she added.

To conduct their study, Tidey’s team, along with researchers at the University of Vermont, will test experimental cigarettes on a group of around 400 participants who identify as smokers. The testing will take place over a course of 12 weeks.

First, study participants will smoke their usual brand of cigarettes for a week, and then researchers will switch the smokers to cigarettes with different nicotine levels manufactured by The National Institute of Drug Abuse. Neither the participants nor the researchers will know what level of nicotine participants are receiving in their cigarettes until after the experiment concludes, Tidey said.

Over the course of the experiment, researchers will collect a range of data including biological measures of toxicity and participants’ levels of craving.

“Tobacco already costs the U.S. about $190 billion in health care costs and lost productivity,” Tidey said. “This study is really fascinating — it has the potential to make a huge impact.”