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Philip Morris and 22nd Century Ltd. have discounted the findings of a recent study by the Massachusetts Department of Health that suggests the amount of nicotine in cigarettes has increased by 10 percent over seven years.
The study analyzed 166 different cigarette brands and found that of those, 92 had increased the amount of inhaled nicotine from 1998 to 2004; 12 other brands remained stable and another dozen showed a decrease in nicotine inhalation levels.
For 2004, Newport filtered cigarettes passed Camel and became the brand with the highest amount of inhaleable nicotine -- 70 percent above the average -- the study said.
According to 22nd Century, more nicotine is a potentially good thing for smokers. The biotech startup is currently developing double-strength tobacco and told the Boston Herald that studies have found that additional nicotine doesn't hurt smokers that much, but more nicotine does reduce the amount smokers inhale. The less people inhale, the less tar and carbon monoxide is inhaled, according to the company.
"Although it appears paradoxical to the purported implications for public health, increases in nicotine yields may have been beneficial to smokers … since they may have inhaled less smoke," the firm said.
The other tobacco company disputing the study's findings, Philip Morris, told the Herald that it "does not believe that the conclusions [are] supported by … the data." It added that the study excluded data from 1997 and 2005 Marlboro brands that the company made available. If those years were included, "nicotine yields for the Marlboro brand [would] not show a general trend either up or down," the company stated.
However, when asked if the company manipulated nicotine levels in cigarettes, a spokesman for Philip Morris, Michael Neese, declined to comment.
Tobacco firms have previously admitted to adjusting nicotine levels, according to John Henningfield, associate professor of behavioral biology at John Hopkins University. He said a 10 percent increase "could be significant" in keeping smokers hooked when trying to quit, and added that 22nd Century's claim that nicotine cuts smoke inhalation "isn't crazy," and that the industry tried to develop such cigarettes in the 70s and 80s.
Despite the recent criticism, the Department of Public Health stands by its study, spokeswoman Donna Rheaume told the Herald.