A report issued this week shows that major American tobacco companies have increased the level of nicotine in their cigarettes, making them more addictive. VOA's Melinda Smith has that story.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that nicotine levels of cigarettes sold in that state rose by an average of 10 percent during the period of 1998 to 2004. Three of the most popular brands favored by younger smokers, Marlboro, Newport and Camel, showed an increase of 12 per cent. Kool, a menthol brand, had a nicotine level of 20 percent. Another brand, called Doral Lights, measured a 36 percent increase.
A spokeswoman for Philip Morris, America's biggest cigarette manufacturer, told VOA Thursday the company is “reviewing the report and will have no comment at this time.”
The report has generated a mixed reaction from anti-smoking and health experts. Doctor Stanton Glantz is an anti-tobacco activist, and professor at the University of California in San Francisco. He says, "I was shocked by the results of this report."
Other anti-smoking experts say they have reservations about the report. The point out that tar -- which actually contains the cancer-causing chemicals -- was not mentioned. One health scientist said tobacco companies already have the technology to remove the nicotine entirely and produce a non-addictive cigarette, but have been unwilling to do so.
The nicotine in cigarettes is what alters the brain chemistry to want more. Smokers say raising the nicotine levels is not fair.
One smoker said, "I think it is really deceptive and unnecessary. It's just kind of strong-arming everybody to continue their bad habit whether they want to quit or not."
"Smoking is bad. Don't smoke. Don't smoke," said another smoker.
The World Health Organization reports tobacco is responsible for about five million deaths every year. It estimates the number of fatalities could double to 10 million each year by 2020.
Tobacco use is a growing problem in developing countries, especially among the poor. Chinese health officials are trying to promote a public awareness campaign about the dangers of cigarettes to the estimated 350 million smokers in China.
Anti-smoking activist Dr. Jeffrey Wigand told VOA he believes manufacturers are 'manipulating' nicotine levels to fit taste preferences in other countries. Dr. Wigand is a former executive with the Brown & Williamson Tobacco company. He was a U.S. government witness in a case accusing cigarette manufacturers of consciously adjusting nicotine levels to raise addiction.
" ‘Hook 'em young. Hook 'em for life.’ I heard that mantra day in and day out from the senior executives in the company I worked for," said the doctor.
Massachusetts is only one of three American states that require tobacco companies to furnish nicotine levels.
The WHO Tobacco Free Initiative has called for stricter regulation of all forms of tobacco products worldwide. One anti-tobacco expert told VOA it is easy for tobacco companies to produce a cigarette that gets around any nicotine testing that countries may use.