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Tobacco Companies Manipulated Nicotine Levels, Study Suggests

Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes Increasing, Study Says

BOSTON, MA -- January 26, 2007 -- Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that nicotine levels in cigarettes increased about 1.6% per year or a total of about 11% for the period from 1998 through 2005. The pattern of increasing nicotine was observed for all major brands and in all types of cigarettes, including mentholated, non-mentholated, full flavor, light, medium (mild) and ultralight.

The study notes that tobacco companies manipulated cigarette nicotine levels through making design changes, changing the burn rate and increasing the amount of nicotine contained in the tobacco rod (the tobacco and wrapping). "Cigarettes are finely-tuned drug delivery devices, designed to perpetuate a tobacco pandemic," commented Howard Koh, a lead author of the study and a former Massachusetts commissioner of public health (Press Release, Harvard School of Public Health, January 22, 2007).

Tobacco Companies Provide Data on Nicotine Yields

Under Massachusetts law, tobacco companies must file information about cigarette nicotine yields with the state department of public health. The reports take into account the design of the cigarette as well as machine-based measures of nicotine yield and delivery. Items include the extent of ventilation holes in the cigarette, the amount of nicotine per puff and the tobacco and nicotine content.

The Harvard study did a statistical analysis of the data Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard Tobacco provided to the state of Massachusetts. A prior study also showed an increase in nicotine levels. Philip Morris had criticized the prior study, saying that "year-to-year variations in nicotine occur as part of the normal processes of growing tobacco and manufacturing cigarettes." The current Harvard report refutes the claim made by Philip Morris, according to the authors, showing a "significant increase in smoke nicotine yield." Dr. Gregory Connolly, a lead author of the report added: "We know from our data that there are intentional design changes that result in more nicotine in smoke that increases the capacity for the cigarette to cause and maintain addiction" (New York Times, January 19, 2007).

The Dangers of Smoking

About 438,000 people die each year due to cigarette smoking. The list of diseases caused by tobacco is lengthy: lung, oral, and throat cancers; cancers of the kidneys, bladder, stomach, cervix, and pancreas; leukemia; heart disease; chronic lung disease and sudden infant death syndrome. Smokers also increase their risk of developing diabetes, according to one study.

The full text of the current Harvard study on nicotine levels is available on the web site of the Harvard School of Public Health.

If you are still smoking, now is the time to quit. For guidance to help you stop smoking, see our section on health benefits of smoking cessation, nicotine addiction and side effects, and the dangers of tobacco use.

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