Technology

Smokers Now Puffing More Nicotine


A study by Harvard's School of Public Health finds that the nicotine content of major-brand cigarettes is up 11%

An analysis of major-brand cigarettes sold in Massachusetts has discovered that manufacturers increased the level of nicotine by about 11% between 1997 and 2005. The research from Harvard University's School of Public Health confirms similar findings by the Massachusetts Public Health Dept. that were reported last August, which were roundly attacked by the tobacco industry.

But the Harvard researchers were able to ascertain how cigarette manufacturers accomplished the increase—by both intensifying the concentration of nicotine in the tobacco and design modifications that increased the number of puffs per cigarette. The end result, says the researchers, is far more addictive cigarettes.

Massachusetts is one of three states that require cigarette makers to submit information annually about nicotine testing and the only state with data going back to 1997. Last August the state reported that nicotine yields, as measured by machine smoking tests, had increased 10% between 1998 and 2004. Levels for Marlboro, Newport, and Camel, the three most popular brands among young smokers, were particularly high, the state noted. But cigarette makers complained that nicotine levels, which are hard to control, vary widely from year to year and show no clear overall trend. The companies also maintained that if the state had included data from 1997 and 2005 the increase would not have been so large.

Camel, Doral Worst Offenders

That wasn't what the Harvard team found. The researchers, led by Gregory Connolly, director of the school's Tobacco Control Research Program, did look at the years from 1997 to 2005. They added up not only the machine-based measures used by the state but also metrics of cigarette design related to nicotine delivery, such as ventilation, nicotine content in the tobacco, and number of puffs. The results: The average rate of increase was 1.1% per year from 1997 to 2005, and 1.6% per year from 1998 to 2004, the years cited by the state.

The researchers found increased nicotine for every major manufacturer, though at varying rates for different brands. The worst offenders, they said, were Camel and Doral, made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings, and Newport, made by Carolina Group's Lorillard Tobacco (CG). Marlboro, the best-selling brand, showed no overall change.

Philip Morris USA, a subsidiary of Altria Group (MO) and the maker of Marlboro, said the data reported to Massachusetts showed that nicotine yields for Marlboros were the same in 2006 as in 1997. "There are random variations in cigarette nicotine yields, both upwards and downwards," the company said in a statement. "Variations are not consistent in either direction across reporting years," for Marlboros, it said. The company also said that "relatively minor changes in nicotine yield may not significantly alter the product's addictive properties."

Connolly, however, charged that increases in nicotine appeared to be intentional: "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 massive 1998 settlement agreement between tobacco companies and the states.

Arnst is a senior writer for BusinessWeek in New York.

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