When low-nicotine cigarettes were introduced as a way for smokers to lessen their habit, and possibly quit altogether, some experts believed it would lead them to overcompensate. Yet, that’s not what new research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found.

It was a small, month-long study that followed 72 smokers, ages 18 to 65, who smoked regular cigarettes for one week before switching over to low-nicotine cigarettes for the remaining three weeks. Instead of smokers, well, smoking more low-nicotine cigarettes to make up for the nicotine they’d get from a regular cigarette (12 milligrams), the researchers found no change in their smoking habits.

“Smokers are unable or unwilling to compensate when there is markedly less nicotine in the cigarette and when the experience of smoking is far less rewarding," said David Hammond, lead study author and an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, in a press release. "Our study may help regulators anticipate the possible consequences of mandatory nicotine reductions in cigarettes."

The nicotine levels in the alternative cigarettes were 8.9 mg, 8.4 mg and 0.6 mg, respectively. And Hammond found that when study participants submitted urine and breath samples at the end of each week, they were consuming the same amount of cigarettes despite lesser levels. Better yet, there was also no difference in the levels of carbon monoxide.

This would mean low-nicotine cigarettes are both a viable option for those looking to adjust their smoking habit, as well as a way to minimize exposure to those cancer-causing chemicals. This may be what the Food and Drug Administration needs to hear in order to finally regulate nicotine levels.

“There is ample evidence from inside and outside the tobacco industry that major reductions in the nicotine content of cigarettes would result in a less-addictive product," Hammond said. “Overall, the impact of a less-addictive cigarette on reducing smoking uptake and cancer prevention is potentially massive.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42.1 million people in the United States smoke cigarettes. It's the leading cause of preventable death, with tobacco smoke containing a deadly mix of over 7,000 chemicals. For the 68 percent of smokers that report wanting to quit completely, low-nicotine cigarettes may be the place to start.

Source: Hammond D, O'Connor R. Reduced Nicotine Cigarettes: Smoking Behavior and Biomarkers of Exposure among Smokers Not Intending to Quit. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2014.