Rising Nicotine Levels

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: U.S. report: More nicotine in cigarettes

The level of nicotine that smokers typically consume per cigarette has risen about 10 percent in the past six years, making it harder to quit and easier to get hooked, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Department of Health.

The study shows a steady climb in the amount of nicotine delivered to the lungs of smokers regardless of brand, with overall nicotine yields increasing by about 10 percent.

Massachusetts is one of three states to require tobacco companies to submit information about nicotine testing according to its specifications and the only state with data going back to 1998.

This is pretty interesting, and — on the face of it — pretty damning. It looks like tobacco companies are doing something to increase the amount of nicotine per cigarette smoked. There would seem to be two ways to do that: either increase the amount of nicotine in each cigarette, or find ways (through marketing?) to shift consumers away from lower-nicotine products to ones higher-nicotine ones that are already in stores. This news story doesn’t provide any information on the exact mechanism, here. Either way, it’s bad news, and certainly looks like discreditable behaviour on the part of these companies.

I doubt this issue is limited to Massachusetts.

I wonder if this is an issue where labelling would make any difference. Don’t know about in the US, but here in Canada tobacco companies are required to list nicotine levels on cigarette packs. I just looked at one package. It said, “Nicotine: 1.2-2.4 mg.” Not very informative. First, the range is huge: is the actual level 1.2 mg, or double that? Secondly, how does that compare to other brands? If I were a smoker, and if I cared about nicotine (maybe — just maybe — I’d rather not become toooo addicted) how would I even know if “1.2-2.4 mg” is a lot or not? I suppose I could comparison shop. But if I found a brand that said “Nicotine: 0.8-2.6 mg,” would that be better, or worse, and how would those numbers translate into something I care about?

One last question: how much attention should we pay to the safety characteristics of inherently un-safe products, and the information companies provide about that?

Relevant Books & Movies:
Smokescreen: The Truth Behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-Up
Assuming the Risk : The Mavericks, the Lawyers, and the Whistle-Blowers Who Beat Big Tobacco
The Insider

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