Cigarettes containing a very low level of nicotine can help people quit smoking, if they are cheap enough, a trial has found.
The study found that smokers given a free supply of the research cigarettes halved their smoking of normal cigarettes, their levels of addiction reduced and they were more likely to quit smoking.
This randomly selected "intervention group" were compared with smokers who were asked to continue buying and smoking their usual cigarettes.
In the small trial run in Queenstown, the intervention group was given a 12-week supply of the very-low-nicotine cigarettes last December.
The trial, conducted by Auckland University's National Institute for Health Innovation, is part of a wider tobacco research programme aimed at helping to reduce New Zealand's smokers to less than 5 per cent of the population by 2025.
At present, about 17 per cent of adults smoke daily.
The institute's addiction research leader, Dr Natalie Walker, said the findings, to be presented to the Smokefree Oceania conference in Auckland tomorrow, were strong evidence that using low-nicotine cigarettes reduced levels of tobacco addiction and helped smokers to quit the habit.
"Therefore, we believe limiting the nicotine content of all cigarettes sold in New Zealand will help the Government achieve its goal of a smokefree New Zealand by 2025.
"We found that if cigarettes with a high nicotine content cost more than cigarettes with low nicotine content, smokers would mix the type of cigarettes they smoked to achieve a balance between nicotine craving and cost.
"However, this created a dual-use scenario where people still smoked regular strength cigarettes, alongside low-nicotine-content varieties."
She urged the Government to regulate to permit the sale of only very-low-nicotine cigarettes, rather than following a suggestion for a nicotine-based tobacco tax in which very-low-nicotine cigarettes were taxed at a lower rate than regular smokes.
For a two-tier system to work, she said, the price difference would have to be at least $10 to $15.
Health Ministry tobacco policy chiefs could not be contacted last night, but Dr Walker said she had discussed the trial with them yesterday and they were "looking at the results".