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April 18, 2017

Why is a UVA Research Study Replacing People’s Cigarettes?

The University of Virginia Health System is conducting a research study to determine if exercise and reduced-nicotine cigarettes can ease the withdrawal symptoms associated with reducing nicotine dependence.

The researchers will provide regular cigarettes to one group of study participants and reduced-nicotine cigarettes to two other groups. Of those two groups, one will exercise and one will not.

“We hope to see that exercise helps the users of low-nicotine cigarettes to reduce their withdrawal symptoms,” explained Aaron Yao, PhD, of UVA’s Department of Public Health Sciences and the UVA Cancer Center. “Smokers switched to low-nicotine cigarettes may have withdrawal symptoms.”

Worries about Weight Gain

Yao and his fellow researcher, Steven K. Malin, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at UVA’s Curry School of Education, are looking for female smokers ages 18 to 64 to participate in their study. It will take place in Charlottesville, Danville and Wise County in Southwest Virginia. Yao noted that approximately 30 percent of men and women in Southwest Virginia smoke.

Participants will receive cigarettes as part of the research study at no cost.  In addition, the exercise groups will be given a membership to a local gym and three sessions per week with a personal trainer

“Aerobic exercise will improve fitness, increase metabolism and calories burned and make you feel more energetic,” Yao said. “At the same time, a lot of smokers worry they will gain weight if they reduce their nicotine consumption. But if people work out, we hope, it will also prevent weight gain.”

The researchers want to shed light on the effectiveness – and potential pitfalls — of reduced-nicotine cigarettes. “One important question is, when people use reduced-nicotine cigarettes, will they smoke more a day?” Yao said. “If they don’t get enough nicotine from a cigarette, will they compensate by just smoking more? … If someone wants to switch from normal nicotine cigarettes, then, of course, we don’t want them to double the number of cigarettes.”

Over the course of the 12-week program, the nicotine contained in the reduced-nicotine cigarettes will be decreased twice. After the 12 weeks are over, the researchers will compare participants’ fitness, body composition, including body fat and lean muscle, and blood work results with their numbers at the beginning of the study.

Cigarettes and the Study

The study is open to women who have smoked at least four cigarettes a day for the last year and have not been on a regular exercise program. Participants will receive compensation of up to $800 upon completion of the full 12 weeks. This is not a quitting study.

For more information, email or call 434.243.8677.

The study is IRB No. 19486.

MORE: Aaron Yao’s crusade against cancer in Appalachia.

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