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New Report Details How Tobacco Companies Have Made Cigarettes More Addictive, More Attractive to Kids and More Deadly

FDA Urged to Stop Harmful Changes Made by Tobacco Industry
June 23, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – Design changes and chemical additives introduced by tobacco companies in recent decades have made cigarettes more addictive, more attractive to kids and even more deadly, according to a report issued today by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The report, titled Designed for Addiction, details how tobacco companies purposely design cigarettes to make tobacco smoke smoother, less harsh and more appealing to new users, especially kids, and to create and sustain addiction to nicotine. Tobacco companies have made these changes without regard for the health impact and actually have increased smokers’ risk of developing lung cancer.

The report is being released on the fifth anniversary of the landmark law, signed by President Obama on June 22, 2009, that gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products. It calls on the FDA to require tobacco companies, at a minimum, to reverse the harmful changes they have made by issuing the first-ever product standards governing the design and content of tobacco products.

The report shows how tobacco companies have:

  • Made cigarettes more addictive by controlling and increasing nicotine levels and enhancing the impact of nicotine.
  • Made cigarettes more attractive to kids by adding flavorings such as licorice and chocolate that mask the harshness of the smoke, menthol that makes the smoke feel smoother and other chemicals that expand the lungs’ airways and make it easier to inhale.
  • Made cigarettes more deadly, as disclosed in the new Surgeon General's report on tobacco and health, released in January. The report found that smokers today have a much higher risk of lung cancer than smokers in 1964, when the first Surgeon General's report alerted Americans to the deadly consequences of smoking. The new Surgeon General’s report attributed smokers' increased risk of lung cancer to “changes in the design and composition of cigarettes since the 1950s.”

'For decades, the tobacco industry had complete control over how cigarettes were made, and they responded by making a deadly and addictive product even worse,' said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'Now that it has the authority to regulate tobacco products, the FDA must require changes in these products to reduce the death and disease they cause. Decisions about how tobacco products are made and what is in them must now be based on protecting public health, not tobacco industry profits.'

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations have called on the FDA to issue the first-ever product standard to reduce the toxicity, addictiveness and/or appeal of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Among its key recommendations for accelerating progress in reducing tobacco use, the latest Surgeon General’s report called for '[e]ffective implementation of FDA's authority for tobacco product regulation in order to reduce tobacco product addictiveness and harmfulness.'

While the United States has made enormous progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use is still the nation's number on cause of preventable death. Smoking annually kills 480,000 Americans and costs the nation at least $289 billion in health care bills and economic losses.

Key Findings: 9 Ways the Tobacco Industry Has Made Cigarettes More Addictive, More Attractive to Kids and More Deadly

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids report is based on an extensive review of scientific studies and tobacco industry documents made public as a result of litigation against the industry. It also draws on the conclusions of Surgeon General’s reports and the 2006 Final Opinion of U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in her racketeering verdict against the major cigarette manufacturers.

The report highlights nine key ways in which tobacco companies have made cigarettes more addictive, more attractive to kids and more deadly:

Making Cigarettes More Addictive

  • Increased Nicotine: Tobacco companies precisely control the delivery and amount of nicotine to create and sustain addiction.
  • Ammonia: Added ammonia compounds produce higher levels of 'freebase' nicotine and increase the speed with which nicotine hits the brain.
  • Sugars and Acetaldehyde: Added sugars make tobacco smoke easier to inhale and, when burned in cigarettes, form acetaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical that enhances nicotine’s addictive effects.

Making Cigarettes More Attractive

Tobacco companies know that 90 percent of adult smokers start at or before age 18 and that smoking is unpleasant for new smokers, so they use chemical additives to make tobacco smoke smoother, less harsh and more appealing to the young, novice smoker. These additives include:

  • Levulinic Acid: Added organic acid salts, like levulinic acid, reduce the harshness of nicotine and make the smoke smoother and less irritating.
  • Flavorings: Added flavors like licorice and chocolate mask the harshness of the smoke and make tobacco products more appealing to young people (the 2009 tobacco regulation law prohibited cigarettes with 'characterizing flavors' other than menthol, but did not prohibit the use of flavorings at levels not considered to be characterizing).
  • Bronchodilators: These added chemicals expand the lungs' airways, making it easier for tobacco smoke to pass into the lungs.
  • Menthol: Menthol cools and numbs the throat to reduce irritation and make the smoke feel smoother.

Making Cigarettes More Harmful

The new Surgeon General's report concluded that smokers' increased risk of lung cancer was most likely the result of two design changes in cigarettes:

  • Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines: Levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines, a potent carcinogen, have increased substantially in American cigarettes in recent decades and are much higher than in cigarettes from Australia and Canada. Factors affecting levels of nitrosamines include the tobacco blends and curing process used.
  • Ventilated Filters: Ventilation holes in cigarette filters cause smokers to inhale more vigorously, drawing carcinogens deeper into the lungs. (Cigarettes with ventilated filters were introduced by tobacco companies because they produced lower levels of tar and nicotine in machine tests and were marketed as less hazardous. However, the evidence now shows that these cigarettes did not reduce health risks and likely increased smokers’ risk of lung cancer.)