Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nicotine Boost was Deliberate

As you may recall, a study released by the Massachusett's Department of Publich Health in August revealed that nicotine levels in major brands of cigarettes had increased over a period of years, leading many (myself included) to strongly suspect that cigarette manufacturers tinkering with levels of nicotine in their products in an effort to make cigarettes more addictive than they already are. Jack Shafer at Slate thought that this was a load of crap, but Harvard researchers have concluded that tobacco companies almost certainly have boosted levels of nicotine in their cigarettes:
The companies increasingly used tobacco richer in nicotine and made design changes to give smokers more puffs per cigarette, according to the analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health. The report expands on a landmark Massachusetts Department of Public Health study issued last August showing that the amount of nicotine that could be inhaled from cigarettes increased an average of 10 percent from 1998 through 2004.

The Harvard researchers used a sophisticated statistical analysis to examine data from the companies covering 1997 through 2005, two years more than the earlier state study. Like the Department of Public Health report, the Harvard study found that levels of inhalable nicotine during that period increased regardless of whether the cigarettes were menthol, full flavor, light, or ultralight.

The researchers used the company data to review possible causes for the increase and concluded that the single most important factor in the increased rates of inhalable nicotine was the amount of nicotine in the tobacco chosen for the cigarettes.

"It was systematic, it was pervasive, it involved all the manufacturers, and it was by design," said Dr. Howard Koh, an associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health and an author of the study.

Another author said that the likelihood that the nicotine increase happened by chance was less than 1 in 1,000.

For an exmple of an industry that refuses to learn a lesson, one need only look to the cigarette manufacturers. They've fought litigation for fifty years, but since they settled with various states back in the 90's they've increasingly found themselves on the hook for their deliberate efforts to addict smokers to their products. But the massive profits generated by cigarette sales apparently far outweighs the legal losses they've sustained, and the industry has concluded-rightly-that they make more money behaving this way even after the cost of the lawsuits is included. Consequently, it is quite clear that it's time for serious regulation of this industry. They can outspend and stonewall plaintiffs, but Congress and the United States government is a different matter entirely. It's time to take these corporate malfeasors head-on.

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