Aug. 31, 2006 -- While most of us thought the country was trying to curb smoking, and the rapacious habits of the tobacco companies, it turns out the industry has been sneakily making cigarettes more addictive.
Evidence of what looks like an increasingly desperate effort to hook new young smokers and prevent older ones from quitting has been uncovered by a Massachusetts law that forces tobacco companies to report test results showing how much nicotine is inhaled by typical smokers of their various brands.
This week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health revealed that from 1998 through 2004, as public health campaigns were mounted to curb smoking, the manufacturers increased the amount of addictive nicotine delivered to the average smoker by 10 percent. 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.
This trend has escaped notice because the standard government test uses a smoking machine that fails to mimic real-life smoking. A manufacturer, for example, can design a cigarette that will score low in nicotine delivery to the machine by placing tiny ventilation holes in the filter to dilute the smoke. But in real life a smoker will often cover the vents with lips or fingers, thereby inhaling a higher dose of nicotine. When Massachusetts required the manufacturers to use what it considered a more realistic method, the nicotine yields were more than twice those found on the standard test. The Massachusetts approach may not be perfect, but it is surely a lot more accurate than the traditional test, which virtually all independent experts consider deficient.