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WASHINGTON -- The former head of the Food and Drug Administration came under cross-examination Thursday after testifying that cigarette makers manipulated nicotine levels to keep smokers addicted, a central allegation in the federal government's $280 billion lawsuit against the industry, reported the Associated Press.
David Kessler, former FDA commissioner, appeared in U.S. District Court to answer questions from defense attorneys about his investigation of the industry in the 1990s.
The Justice Department alleges tobacco companies lied to the public for years about whether nicotine was addictive, whether they manipulated nicotine levels and about whether their products caused diseases.
Brown & Williamson attorney David Bernick tried to paint Kessler as overzealous and eager for media attention in the 1990s when he characterized nicotine as a drug and set out to regulate cigarettes. Bernick quoted Kessler as talking about "goading Congress" and "circling the White House."
Kessler stated in written direct testimony previously filed with the court that the FDA investigation revealed that nicotine levels in cigarettes were controlled by the companies. He said the companies managed to keep nicotine levels up, even as they lowered tar levels, by blending different kinds of tobacco leaves to make the product.
"The manufacturer had to be controlling and manipulating the level of nicotine in these brands," he testified.
He also said industry documents indicated ammonia was added to cigarettes to enhance the effects of addictive nicotine, an allegation the tobacco industry denied Wednesday in opening arguments.
"What he says is completely and utterly false," Bernick told reporters outside of court Thursday. Bernick added that some industry documents pointed to a theory that ammonia could affect the way nicotine affects smokers, but he denied ammonia is added to cigarettes for that purpose. Instead, he said it creates certain "aromatic features of the smoke."
Kessler said the industry was not "forthcoming" during his investigation. "Parts of the industry waged, I think it is fair to say, a significant attack on the agency," he said.
At issue is whether the companies committed fraud by denying publicly that nicotine was addictive while acknowledging it was addictive in internal industry documents.
The defendants are Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A.; and the Tobacco Institute.