Evaluating New Nicotine Standards for Cigarettes, Eric Donny, Ph.D.


[Music] My name is Eric Donny. I’m an associate professor in
the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. The center that I direct is the Center for the Evaluation
of Nicotine in Cigarettes. The thing I find most exciting
about regulatory science is that every day I can remind
myself that it matters, the science I’m doing. I like knowing that what I do
has the potential to contribute to something that really
could dramatically reduce how much harm is caused. The goal of the projects, in
general, is to evaluate whether or not reducing the amount of
nicotine in cigarettes might benefit the public health. And the way we do that is we
look at cigarettes that have varying levels of
nicotine in them. These are cigarettes that have
been genetically engineered so that they actually have less
nicotine in the actual tobacco. And we look and see whether or
not those cigarettes-when people smoke them for an extended
period of time–change people’s behavior, change how many
toxicants they might be exposed to, change any–
produce any adverse events. For example, someone might
experience depression as a consequence of having
the nicotine removed. And whether or not they changed
their behavior in a bad way; that is, they might
try to smoke more, to try to get more nicotine out. So we’re interested in adverse
events and safety, as well as the potential positive
effects that might happen. We approach this question of
whether reducing nicotine would benefit health by mostly
performing clinical trials. We basically see
what happens over time. And the question really is about
fundamentally whether people are smoking less, exposed to less
harmful constituents, and certainly that they’re
not exposed to more as a consequence of doing
this nicotine reduction. The reason people use
tobacco is because of a drug that’s addictive. The thing about addiction I
find most disturbing is that people lose that sense of
control or freedom that should be a part of making
the decision about whether you use a product or not. And so what I hope our research
does is it allows the FDA to figure out ways to make people
make more informed and more personal decisions about whether
they should use a product or not that isn’t constrained
by it being addictive. There are a lot of areas in
science where you can become interested, intellectually, in
something, but you may feel like it’s distant from something that
matters to the general public. In this area we both have
the challenges of a tough intellectual question and
the benefits of achieving some public health goal. It really does represent where
the future is going as opposed to the past, with tobacco, and
represents this kind of nexus of intellectual pursuits and
public health pursuits. [Music]