Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Stephen T. Higgins


Introduction: Cigarette preference increases as a function of nicotine content, but preference can be shifted by manipulating cigarette cost. The aim of the present study is to model whether the behavioral-economic metric of unit price (cigarette cost/nicotine content) accounts for cigarette preference shifts and whether preference changes to very low nicotine content cigarettes (VLNCs) are associated with corresponding changes in smoking rate.

Methods: 169 daily smokers from populations vulnerable to smoking completed sessions in which choices between smoking normal nicotine content (NNC) (15.8mg/g) and VLNC (0.4mg/g) cigarettes were concurrently available. In Condition 1, choices for both products were available ad-lib at an equal cost of 10 responses/choice. In Condition 2, VLNCs were again available ad-lib at 10 responses/choice, but NNCs were available on a progressive-ratio (PR) schedule wherein response cost (and unit price) increased following each NNC choice (10,160,320…8400 responses/choice). Results were analyzed using ANOVAs and a binomial test (p<.05).

Results: Participants preferred NNCs over VLNCs in Condition 1, but shifted preference to VLNCs in Condition 2 (p<.001) immediately before the point in the PR progression where unit price for NNCs exceeded unit price for VLNCs (p<.001). Additionally, this preference shift corresponded with reduced total cigarette consumption compared to Condition 1 levels (p<.001).

Conclusions: These results suggest that unit price of nicotine underpins cigarette preference and may provide a metric by which regulators can predict product preference and potentially impact it through policy. These results also demonstrate that VLNCs sustain lower smoking rates than NNCs even under acute laboratory conditions.



Number of Pages

74 p.