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Study Finds Higher Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

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Study Finds Higher Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

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Study Finds Higher Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

Study Finds Higher Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

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The Harvard School of Public Health has released a study that finds cigarette companies are boosting the amount of nicotine in their products. A researcher speculates that more nicotine could mean a higher potential for addiction among smokers.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now to health news. A new report on cigarettes say they've got more nicotine. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates spoke with one of the researchers who did the study.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: A study released today by the Harvard School of Public Health says that the levels of nicotine in major brands of cigarettes sold in Massachusetts has jumped in recent years. This supports an earlier August 2006 report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Gregory Connolly is the lead author of the Harvard study and a professor at Harvard's School of Public Health. He recaps the Harvard study's major findings. First, the nicotine level in smoke has risen 11 percent over a seven-year period.

Professor GREGORY CONNOLLY (Harvard School of Public Health): Number two, we found that the cause of that is that more nicotine is now appearing in the raw tobacco, which could be either through differences in blending, the addition of nicotine to reconstituted tobacco sheet, use of foreign leaf.

BATES: Connolly says this indicates cigarette companies are continuing to deceive smokers and health officials.

Prof. CONNOLLY: This is information that would tell us that the product has a greater capacity to cause or maintain addiction among consumers.

BATES: The potential for increased addiction is at this point speculative, as the Harvard figures are for machine testing of nicotine levels. Scientific research indicates humans actually adjust their smoking patterns to get the nicotine they need, taking shorter puffs on stronger cigarettes, and longer drags on ones with lower levels of nicotine.

What's worrisome, says Connolly, is a suspicion that tobacco companies are manipulating nicotine levels despite promises not to do that, made when tobacco companies settled with state's attorneys general in 1998. He cites one judge's finding.

Prof. CONNOLLY: Judge Kessler, the federal judge who did an investigation on issues of conspiracy and fraud by the tobacco industry, looked at this question very, very carefully - do they manipulate nicotine to cause and maintain addiction - and concluded yes, they did.

Leading tobacco company Phillip Morris says the current levels of nicotine cited in the Massachusetts and Harvard studies are random fluctuations. In a press release, Phillip Morris says, quote, "Data reported to the state from 1997 to 2006 reflect that there are random variations in cigarette nicotine yields, both upwards and downwards, and that variations are not consistent in either directions across reporting years," unquote.

Whether tobacco is being manipulated in the years this study covers, Harvard's Connolly says more monitoring is an absolute necessity.

Prof. CONNOLLY: The cigarette is probably one of the few consumer products that is exempt from virtually every major health law in the United States of America, including the Food and Drug Administration by, you know, a court decision a few years ago. And it's about time that end. There's too many people dying of lung cancer.

BATES: Connolly says one solution is increased oversight of the industry by the Food and Drug Administration, something Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts has proposed in pending legislation.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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