Thursday, August 31, 2006

Get Your Smoke On

Oh, those clever cigarette manufacturers:

The amount of nicotine in most cigarettes rose an average of almost 10 percent from 1998 to 2004, with brands most popular with young people and minorities registering the biggest increases and highest nicotine content, according to a new study.

Nicotine is highly addictive, and while no one has studied the effect of the increases on smokers, the higher levels theoretically could make new smokers more easily addicted and make it harder for established smokers to quit.

The trend was discovered by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which requires that tobacco companies measure the nicotine content of cigarettes each year and report the results.

You might be surprised to learn that state governments have not previously required more accurate testing of the nicotine levels in cigarettes. Apparently Massachusetts now requires a more realistic test that delivers much more accurate results about the amount of nicotine smokers are inhaling.

Is it merely coincidence that the brands delivering the hightest levels of nicotine are popular among younger smokers? Hardly, says the NY Times:

Of 179 cigarette brands tested in 2004, an astonishing 166 brands fell into the state’s highest nicotine yield range, including 59 brands that the manufacturers had labeled “light” and 14 described as “ultra-light.” The three most popular brands chosen by young smokers — Marlboro, Newport and Camel — all delivered significantly more nicotine as the years passed. Virtually all brands were found to deliver a high enough nicotine dose to cause heavy dependence.

It is stunning to discover how easily this rogue industry was able to increase public consumption of nicotine without anyone knowing about it until Massachusetts blew the whistle. The Massachusetts report bears out the conclusions of a federal judge in Washington, who recently concluded that the companies have designed cigarettes to produce low nicotine readings on the standard test while delivering enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction

...It is long past time for Congress to bring this damaging and deceitful industry under federal regulatory control. If the companies had to justify to the Food and Drug Administration why they should be allowed to increase the nicotine inhaled by smokers, you can bet they wouldn’t even try.

I agree. The billions that cigarette manufacturers have been forced to shell out to dead or dying smokers and state governments who have to pay for their medical care, and the millions more they're now required to spend on advertising and programs to help people stop smoking, are obviously not operating as an effective deterrant to this sort of bad behavior. The big money law suits from the 90's made it clear that cigarette manufacturers have for decades lied about what they knew about the danger of their products and manipulated cigarettes to make them more addictive. Even after all that dirty laundry was aired in public, we find out now that these companies are still secretly rigging cigarettes deliberately to hook smokers, like drug dealers who engineer their product to be more "pure" and thus more potent. Spare me the complaints about smokers who know the "consequences" of smoking; these findings indicate that cigarette manufacturers are doing their best to keep even those trying to quit on the hook. Civil suits that occur after the fact are not working; it's time for serious regulation of cigarettes, with an eye towards reducing levels of nicotine and ending cigarette addiction among most or all Americans. It amazes me that not only can we not talk about legalizing more innocuous drugs (such as marijuana) but that we also can't talk about regulating a highly addictive substance like nicotine, delivered in a device that's as effective as a crack pipe for getting the drug in your system. It's long past time to bring this industry under federal control, and put an end to decades of shameful marketing.


Nat-Wu said...

That's just an incredibly disgusting practice from people who obviously don't have the respect for public health and authority that they claim. If we can't convince people not to take up this terrible, dirty, nasty, and expensive habit, at the very least they ought to be able to say that they know exactly what they're getting instead of being handed lies from big tobacco.

James said...

No one gets into smoking thinking that it's healthy. Sure, it's bad that nicotine levels have risen so much, but really, with all the things that are bad about cigarette smoke, does this matter? If you are dumb enough to take up smoking, maybe addiction is the least of your worries.

Nat-Wu said...

It does matter if someone cannot overcome the addiction when they later decide not to smoke anymore. The tobacco companies are responsible for that, not for someone deciding to smoke in the first place. Nicotine is addictive, but that doesn't mean the addiction is insurmountable. However, if Big Tobacco is making it harder and harder for people to overcome, that is immoral.