VTC Research Institute studying health impacts of light cigarettes

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - Neuroscience researchers from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute are participating in a several year project to study light cigarettes.

Addiction Recovery Research Director Dr. Warren Bickel describes light cigarettes as cigarettes that have ventilation holes in the filter portion of a cigarette.

"Over time the type of cancers that resulted from cigarettes changed. There is something about the way that product was made that is influencing these health outcomes," Bickel said.

Bickel along with research assistant professors Mikhail Koffarnus and Jeff Stein are working on the study called Consortium on Methods Evaluating Tobacco: Filter Ventilation and Product Standards, along with researchers at several other institutions across the country.

"The angle that we are having here at Virginia Tech is focusing on the rewarding properties of cigarettes and how ventilation or lack thereof influence how people want to purchase or want to be able to engage in cigarette smoking with these ventilated cigarettes," said Bickel.

They are working to figure out what type of cigarettes are the most addicting by giving a tobacco user their normal cigarette and also the same cigarette but without the ventilation holes.

"Does that change how they value the cigarettes? Does it change their interest in purchasing them? Does it make them want to shift to other tobacco products? Those are all questions we are trying to answer."

According to Bickle, understanding how rewarding the type of cigarette is, is a measure of how likely addictive they are going to become.

"So of course, if it is highly addictive you are going to smoke a lot of it. If you smoke a lot of it you are going to suffer the health consequences," Bickle said. "So we need to understand that in the total context of all of the health considerations for cigarette smokers."

The data from the study will be turned over to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA, who has the ability to control cigarette features could have an informed view about whether the ventilation holes are a good plan or not a good plan for the health and well-being of smokers throughout the US, Bickle said.

The VTC researchers conducted a preliminary study where they gathered light cigarette smokers and asked them how much they valued their cigarette. They asked the participants how much they valued their choice of cigarette. They were given a choice between a cigarette with ventilation and one without it and asked which they preferred.

"Interestingly enough, when it was the only cigarette available to them they liked them both pretty much but if they had a choice it was exclusively for the ventilated cigarette that they had previously been using."

The study is a five-year, $13 million project.