Examining effects of unit price on preference for reduced nicotine content cigarettes and smoking rate

Danielle R. Davis, Michael J. DeSarno, Cecilia L. Bergeria, Joanna M. Streck, Jennifer W. Tidey, Stacey C. Sigmon, Sarah H. Heil, Diann E. Gaalema, Maxine L. Stitzer, Stephen T. Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Cigarette preference increases as a function of greater nicotine content, but manipulating cost can shift preference. The aims of the present study are to model whether (1) the behavioral-economic metric unit price (cost/reinforcer magnitude) accounts for preference shifts and (2) whether preference shifts toward reduced nicotine content are associated with smoking reductions. In a multisite study between 2015 and 2016, 169 daily smokers from vulnerable populations completed two concurrent-choice conditions examining preference for smoking normal (15.8 mg/g) and reduced (0.4 mg/g) nicotine content cigarettes. In Condition 1, both products were available at 10 responses/choice. In Condition 2, availability of the 0.4 mg/g dose remained at 10 responses/choice while the 15.8 mg/g dose was available on a progressive-ratio (PR) schedule wherein response cost increased following each choice. Unit prices were calculated by dividing dose by response requirement. Results were analyzed using ANOVA and binomial tests (p <.05). Participants preferred the 15.8 over 0.4 mg/g dose in Condition 1, but shifted preference to the 0.4 mg/g dose in Condition 2 (p <.001) immediately before the point in the PR progression where unit price for 15.8 dose exceeded unit price for the 0.4 dose (p <.001). This shift was associated with a reduction in smoking (p <.001). The unit price of nicotine appears to underpin cigarette product preference and may provide a metric for predicting preference and potentially impacting it through tobacco regulations. These results also demonstrate that reduced compared to normal nicotine content cigarettes sustain lower smoking rates discernible even under acute laboratory conditions and in vulnerable populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105823
JournalPreventive Medicine
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Abuse liability
  • Behavioral economics
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Nicotine reduction
  • Unit price
  • Vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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