The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was recently given the authority to regulate the content of nicotine to a "nonaddictive" level, but mor research is needed to evaluate the impact of a nicotine reduction policy on public health. Behavioral economics is an approach that would be beneficial for answering many research questions related to nicotine reduction. Because nicotine is the primary reinforcing component within cigarettes, a reduction in nicotine content may be viewed as an increase in unit price (Unit price=reinforcer cost/reinforcer magnitude), and behavioral economics has shown that consumption of a reinforcer is a function of unit price. Viewing nicotine reduction as an increase in unit price allows for the application of analytic techniques as well as a wealth of existing literature from the field of behavioral economics to the science of nicotine reduction. However, the assumption that consumption is a joint function of reinforcer magnitude and cost has yet to be evaluated for nicotine, making the application of current behavioral economics literature and a behavioral economics approach questionable. The proposed project aims to 1) show that ratio escalation and dose reduction produce equivalent changes in nicotine consumption 2) establish that the two manipulations change consumption of concurrently available reinforcers similarly. Data will be collected using a self- administration paradigm in which rats are implanted with catheters and allowed to make a response to obtain an intravenous infusion of nicotine. Cost is manipulated using the number of responses required for an infusion. 1) Consumption will be measured across six unit prices by manipulating cost using two different nicotine doses and by manipulating dose using two different costs. At the unit price that appears to create the most variability, consumption will be measured across 10 cost/dose combinations. The results will then be extended to a paradigm in which rats have the opportunity to respond for nicotine during an extended 22-hour session. 2) Unit price will be manipulated by both escalating cost and decreasing dose with the dependent variable being consumption of a second, concurrently available reinforcer. Two alternative reinforcers will be tested: oral nicotine and saccharin solution. This project will be the first to determine whether decreasing nicotine dose is likely to function similarly as increasing nicotine cost. If the two manipulations are equivalent, a behavioral economics approach to nicotine reduction may be applicable, which could help address many important questions related to nicotine reduction. Collectively, these students may provide insight regarding strategies for reducing smoking and overall tobacco use.

Public Health Relevance

An FDA policy regulating nicotine content to be below a nonaddictive level could reduce the prevalence of smoking substantially, but the public health impact of a nicotine reduction policy has yet to be fully evaluated. Existing literature from the behavioral economics literature as well as analytic techniques from behavioral economics could greatly advance the science of nicotine reduction. The proposed project will evaluate a key assumption from the behavioral economics framework: increasing cost of nicotine and decreasing nicotine dose are functionally equivalent manipulations. Evaluating this assumption is necessary for a behavioral economics framework to be effectively applied to nicotine reduction research.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Babecki, Beth
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University of Pittsburgh
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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