Higher Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes May Be Beneficial

By (BI) Susanna Daniel

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A recent press release from The Massachusetts Department of Public Health highlights findings from its report titled, "Change in Nicotine Yields 1998-2004."

Despite an attempt to provide pivotal information to benefit public health, the MDPH Release and MDPH Report focus attention on nicotine, while totally disregarding "tar" and carbon monoxide (CO).

It is widely accepted that exposure to "tar" and CO are much more harmful to smokers than nicotine.(1-4) Although nicotine is the "addictive" substance in cigarette smoke, it is relatively benign to existing smokers compared to other smoke components, such as "tar" and CO. The MDPH Release fails to even mention "tar" or CO.

One finding of the MDPH Report is, "Overall, nicotine yields increased ten percent from 1998 - 2004."

Although it appears paradoxical to the MDPH's purported implications for public health, these increases in nicotine yields may have been beneficial to smokers of the subject brands, since they may have inhaled less smoke from their cigarettes produced in 2004 compared to 1998.

Published research studies and analyses of smoking behavior have indicated an inverse relationship between nicotine concentration in cigarette smoke and the amount of smoke that smokers actually inhale.(2-6)

From a public health perspective, the MDPH Report would have been much more meaningful if "tar" and carbon monoxide yields were also measured in relation to nicotine yields. A 656-page report titled, Clearing the Smoke, Assessing the Science Base for Tobacco Harm Reduction ("IOM Report"), by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences,(1) affirms, "Retaining nicotine at pleasurable or addictive levels while reducing the more toxic components of tobacco is another general strategy for harm reduction."

Although the MDPH Release states, "Increased levels of nicotine may make it more difficult for the average smoker to quit," there is no scientific evidence to support this. Within the nicotine range of popular cigarette brands, no scientific evidence suggests that cigarettes with higher nicotine levels are associated with smoking being more addictive.

A paper by Harvard Health Publications titled, Nicotine: It may have a good side, states, "nicotine, unlike many other addictive drugs, doesn't behave in a simple additive manner as the dose increases."(7) Smokers desire certain amounts of nicotine at different times, no more or less.(8) Too much nicotine at once becomes unpleasant to the smoker.

Regrettably, the MDPH Release does not mention the phenomena of compensatory smoking, also known as compensation,(9,10) despite the fact that the nicotine yields in the MDPH report are based on its own smoking-machine method "developed to reflect compensation techniques." Human smoking behavior is primarily driven by nicotine seeking.

Compensatory smoking essentially means over smoking (smoking more intensely) to obtain the desired nicotine impact or under smoking (smoking less intensely) due to the increased presence of nicotine. The manner in which a smoker may compensate includes the frequency of puffs per cigarette, volume of smoke inhalation of these puffs, time the inhaled smoke is held before exhaling, and the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

Some smokers engage in compensatory smoking of low-yield cigarettes, namely with "lights" and "ultra lights." This mainly occurs due to the reduced presence of nicotine in smoke.

The conclusions presented in the MDPH Release and MDPH Report were based solely on results obtained from smoking-machine data, and therefore do not necessarily predict nicotine intake by smokers. Results from smoking behavioral studies on individual smokers are far more conclusive in evaluating the impact of varying nicotine levels on public health.

The IOM Report(1) on page 533 specifically recommends using a low-tar/moderate-nicotine (nicotine-enriched) cigarette for evaluation in human clinical trials. It states, "Potential advantages of this trial are that the low-tar/moderate-nicotine product, if it reduces harm, could be used as a reference product for future regulation of marketed products."

As announced in October of 2005, 22nd Century Limited, LLC is genetically modifying tobacco cultivars for increased nicotine content for use in less hazardous cigarettes. After field trials in the spring of 2007, 22nd Century is planning rigorous, short-term, human-exposure studies to measure differences in exposure levels to tobacco toxins from cigarettes with varying nicotine levels.

22nd Century believes that these studies will substantiate that a higher nicotine concentration in cigarette smoke will effectively reduce compensatory smoking of low-yield cigarettes, thereby substantially reducing exposure to most harmful tobacco smoke components, including "tar" and CO. Joseph Pandolfino, the company's president states, "The expected result is that smokers will inhale less daily average tobacco smoke by smoking fewer cigarettes per day and/or smoking less of each cigarette.

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