Tobacco Companies Increasing Nicotine Content of Cigarettes

According to a newly released Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) study, tobacco companies in the United States have added more nicotine to their cigarettes during the last decade. According to HSPH, “A reanalysis of nicotine yield from major brand-name cigarettes sold in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2005 has confirmed that manufacturers have steadily increased the levels of this agent in cigarettes.”

Researchers found that “increases in smoke nicotine yield per cigarette averaged 1.6 percent each year, or about 11 percent over a seven-year period (1998-2005).” Nicotine is considered the primary addictive agent in cigarettes.

The new analysis, which builds on data gathered by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), established two main conclusions. First, researchers claim that manufacturers accomplished the increase “not only by intensifying the concentration of nicotine in the tobacco but also by modifying several design features of cigarettes to increase the number of puffs per cigarette. The end result is a product that is potentially more addictive.” The second major finding is that “smoke nicotine yields were increased in the cigarettes of each of the four major manufacturers and across all the major cigarette market categories (e.g. mentholated, non-mentholated, full-flavor, light, ultralight).”

“Cigarettes are finely tuned drug delivery devices, designed to perpetuate a tobacco pandemic,” said Howard Koh, associate dean for public health practice at HSPH and a former commissioner of public health for Massachusetts. “Yet precise information about these products remains shrouded in secrecy, hidden from the public. Policy actions today requiring the tobacco industry to disclose critical information about nicotine and product design could protect the next generation from the tragedy of addiction.”

“Our findings call into serious question whether the tobacco industry has changed at all in its pursuit of addicting smokers since signing the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 with the State Attorneys General,” said Gregory Connolly, director of HSPH’s Tobacco Control Research Program. “Our analysis shows that the companies have been subtly increasing the drug nicotine year by year in their cigarettes, without any warning to consumers, since the settlement. Scrutiny by the Attorneys General is imperative. Proposed federal legislation has been filed by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Ma.) that would address this abuse and bring the tobacco industry under the rules that regulate other manufacturers of drugs.”

According to the HSPH, cigarettes are responsible for an estimated 438,000 premature deaths (about 1 in every 5 deaths) annually in the U.S., and approximately 900,000 people become addicted to tobacco every year.

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