Harvard Study Confirms Tobacco Companies Increased Nicotine Levels In Cigarettes, Highlights Need For FDA Regulation of Tobacco

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 18, 2007

Washington, DC — A new study released today by the Harvard School of Public Health shows the critical need for Congress to enact legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products. The Harvard study expands on and confirms an August 2006 study released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that found that tobacco companies have deliberately increased the levels of nicotine in cigarette smoke since 1998. The FDA legislation would require tobacco companies to disclose to the FDA changes in their products and provide FDA the authority to require them to reduce levels of constituents, like nicotine that make them more harmful or more addictive.

Manufacturers of food, drugs and even pet foods are required to disclose to the FDA and the public changes in their products in order to protect the public health. Only the tobacco industry is exempt from these basic public health protections. These studies demonstrate that what the tobacco industry knows and what consumers don’t, can kill us.

Both the Harvard and Massachusetts Department of Public Health studies found that nicotine levels in the three cigarette brands that are most popular among youth smokers-Marlboro, Newport and Camel-have increased significantly. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, nicotine levels in R.J. Reynolds’ menthol Kool brand increased by 20 percent during 1998-2004. The Harvard study uses sophisticated methods of analysis and also includes data from 1997 and 2005, demonstrating conclusively that there is a clear upward trend in the levels of nicotine found in Marlboro.

These studies add to the growing evidence that as smoking rates continue to decline, and more smokers try to quit, tobacco companies are actively trying to maintain addiction among smokers and addict a new generation of replacement smokers. The fact that the tobacco companies have been able to secretly increase nicotine levels in tobacco smoke occurred only because no federal or state agency currently has regulatory authority over cigarettes or what tobacco companies put in cigarettes.

Legislation to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco should be given a high priority and scheduled for action early this year. The proposed legislation would grant the FDA the authority and resources to stop harmful tobacco company practices that continue to addict children, mislead consumers and devastate the nation's health. The FDA would have authority to restrict tobacco advertising and promotions, especially to children; stop illegal sales of tobacco products to children; ban candy-flavored cigarettes, which clearly are starter products for young new smokers; prohibit health claims about so-called 'reduced risk' products that are not scientifically proven or that would discourage current tobacco users from quitting or encourage new users to start; require larger and more informative health warnings on tobacco products; and prohibit terms such as 'light', 'mild' and 'low-tar' that have mislead consumers into believing that certain cigarettes are safer than others. Enacting this legislation would be a truly historic step in protecting the nation's health.