Nicotine in cigarettes on rise, study indicates


BOSTON (AP) – Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say they have confirmed a study released last year by health officials in Massachusetts that found steadily increasing levels of nicotine in cigarettes sold in the state from 1997 to 2005.

The analysis, based on data submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health by cigarette manufacturers, found that increases in smoke nicotine yield per cigarette averaged 1.6 percent each year, or about 11 percent over a seven-year period.

The analysis was performed by a research team that included Howard Koh, associate dean for public health practice and a former commissioner of public health for Massachusetts.

“Cigarettes are finely-tuned drug delivery devices, designed to perpetuate a tobacco pandemic,” Koh said in a written statement. “Yet precise information about these products remains shrouded in secrecy, hidden from the public.”

Gregory Connolly, head of the Tobacco Control Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the findings call into question whether the tobacco industry is living up to its landmark 1998 agreement with states.

The industry, under that agreement, launched a corporate responsibility campaign to reduce smoking by young people, Connolly said.

But in reality, he said, “if that same industry turns around and advances the availability of nicotine in the product, you may not get fewer kids smoking.”

“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,” he said. “Now there can’t be any dispute.”

Connolly said the increase is due primarily to an increase in nicotine in the raw tobacco used in the cigarettes.

“There’s something going on either with the type of tobacco they’re using or the addition of more nicotine to the reconstituted tobacco. We just don’t know,” he said, adding that the cigarette design also resulted in an increase in the number of puffs.

The Harvard study also found that nicotine yields were increased in the cigarettes of each of the four major manufacturers and across all the major cigarette market categories, including mentholated, non-mentholated, full-flavor, light, ultralight.

Connolly said the state should also toughen its reporting requirements to force cigarette companies to include more information about design features that affect nicotine delivery, as well as testing sample brands for actual delivery of nicotine to the body.

Cigarette manufacture Philip Morris USA disputed the findings, saying data reported to the state by the company shows nicotine yields for the Marlboro cigarettes were the same in 2006 as they were in 1997.

The company said the data reflect random variations in cigarette nicotine yields, both upward and downwards, and that variations are not consistent in either direction across reporting years.

“No trends for measures the authors believe are related to cigarette design and increased nicotine yield were observed for Marlboro cigarettes,” the company said in a statement.

The company said it supports legislation introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to grant the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over cigarettes, which would address disclosure of more product design information.

“Congress has been an accomplice in the travesty because of the success of the tobacco lobby in blocking real reform,” Kennedy said in a statement Wednesday. “Hopefully, the study will be a wake-up call to persuade Republicans and Democrats alike to enact long overdue legislation allowing the FDA to regulate cigarettes and deal with their enormous risks.”

The health department study released last October examined nicotine levels in more than 100 brands over a six-year period. The study showed a steady climb in the amount of nicotine delivered to the lungs of smokers regardless of brand, with overall nicotine yields increasing by about 10 percent, according to state health officials.

The study also found the three most popular cigarette brands with young smokers – Marlboro, Newport and Camel – delivered significantly more nicotine than they did years ago.

Health department officials have defended the report, which concluded that the higher nicotine levels made it easier to get hooked on cigarettes and harder to quit.

Connally said the Harvard School of Public Health did a more in-depth analysis of the data and looked at one additional year.

Massachusetts is one of three states to require tobacco companies to submit information about nicotine testing according to its specifications and the only state with data going back to 1997.

Cigarette smoking causes an estimated 438,000 premature deaths in the United States.

Work on the Harvard report was supported by funds from the anti-smoking advocacy group The American Legacy Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.

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AP-ES-01-17-07 2237EST