The Collegian
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Most smokers in the dark about increased nicotine levels, new Harvard study shows

The Federal Drug Administration has failed to make the public, and the University of Richmond campus, aware of the 11 percent increase of nicotine in cigarettes, a recent Harvard University study says.

The Harvard study highlighted an urgent need by Congress to grant oversight of tobacco products to the FDA.

"The FDA legislation would require tobacco companies to disclose to the FDA changes in their products and provide the FDA the authority to require them to reduce levels of constituents, like nicotine, that make them more harmful or more addictive," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in his company's press release.

Maya Vincelli, Operations Manager at 8:15 at Boatwright and EveryThingConvenience Store, said she had heard about the recent study on the local news. Major newspapers including The New York Times and The Washington Post have also publicized the study.

"As a light smoker, [the increased nicotine levels] really creeps me out," Vincelli said. "I've been trying to quit for good for over a month now, and it's harder than when I quit a few years back. I thought it was just my bad willpower."

Junior Lauren Piccolo, a former smoker, said she had no idea that nicotine levels had been increasing in cigarettes.

"I've never seen a notification on any cartons or packs," Piccolo said. "I think that smokers should be informed if their already-addictive habit is worsened unbeknownst to them due to changes in nicotine levels."

She said she thought it was essential for smokers and the public to be better informed about the amount on nicotine in cigarettes, as well as if and how much the nicotine levels change.

The FDA oversees all changes made to drugs, food, cosmetics, medical devices, biologics and radiation-emitting products, and it publicizes any health concerns that should be known to the public. According to the FDA Web site, the tobacco industry is the only group that is exempt from these FDA regulations because of a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which said the FDA "lacks the authority to regulate tobacco."

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health conducted a seven-year study ending in 2006 that found major brand name cigarettes had steadily increased the levels of nicotine 11 percent, and the department sent this information to the Harvard School of Public Health.

HSPH then extended the analysis to determine how cigarette companies accomplished this increase and to examine all market categories including mentholated, light and full-flavor cigarettes, according to the HSPH Web site. The Tobacco Control Research Program at HSPH led the experiments.

"Our analysis shows that the companies have been subtly increasing the drug nicotine year by year in their cigarettes, without any warning to consumers, since the settlement," said HSPH program director Gregory Connolly in the press release. "Scrutiny by the attorneys general is imperative."

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Myers said in his press release that 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." If the FDA were to regain control over the tobacco industry, tobacco advertising would be restricted, more informative health warnings would be required and fewer people would become addicted each year.

Vincelli said she was unable to release sales data was unsure if cigarette sales had risen or decreased since the release of the Harvard study because ETC had only been open since the start of the fall 2006 semester.

In the 2006 case, U.S. vs. Philip Morris USA et al, Judge Gladys Kessler said, "Tobacco companies can and do control the level of nicotine delivered in order to create and sustain addiction."

According to the HSPH press release, cigarette smoking causes an estimated 438,000 premature deaths annually in the United States, or about one in every five deaths. About 900,000 people become addicted to smoking each year.

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