The Vector Group is on a mission to provide smokers with nicotine content alternatives, though experts contend the company is just blowing smoke.
Last month, the New York-based company unveiled Quest, a brand of three-step low to nicotine-free cigarettes.
Spokeswoman Carrie Bloom contends that the cigarettes are not meant to serve as a smoking cessation tool, though individuals can move from low nicotine to extra low and eventually to nicotine-free cigarettes.
“Quest 1, 2 and 3 offers smokers a choice in the nicotine level,” Bloom said. “It offers smokers a choice of reduced nicotine.”
However, Dr. Michael Burke, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey assistant professor and quit center liaison, said Quest cigarettes are a ploy used to trick consumers seeking quitting options.
“They do imply very clearly that it is a quit aid,” Burke said. “I would say if you went up to 20 people that smoke and asked them if it would help them quit or not most of them would say yeah.”
Burke said he has helped over 600 people try to kick their habit through a UMDNJ clinic opened two years ago. Of those, he said more than 30 percent have remained smoke-free after six months.
If smokers try to curb smoking with Quest cigarettes, Burke said the attempt will likely fail, preventing future quit efforts.
“When somebody gathers up the courage for a quit attempt and it fails it’s even that much harder to try again,” Burke said. “They may go another six months before another quit attempt.”
Bloom said the low-nicotine cigarette provides 17 percent less than the average light cigarette, while the extra-low version cuts nicotine by 58 percent. The nicotine-free cigarette offers only trace amounts less than 0.05 milligrams of the substance.
“Just like light cigarettes it works in exactly the opposite situation,” Burke said. “People smoke to maintain their levels of nicotine. They adjust how they inhale, so they inhale more deeply. They end up getting more of the harmful chemicals.”
Marge Reed, American Cancer Society Tobacco Control director for South Jersey, said decreased nicotine levels will not curb the 13,000 New Jersey or 400,000 nationwide deaths per year from tobacco-related illnesses.
“The Food and Drug Administration has no authority over how much nicotine is in them,” Reed said. “They would still have the 4,000 other chemicals that cigarettes have like arsenic and formaldehyde.”