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Mental Health Center

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Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes Rising

Study Shows 11% Jump in Cigarettes' Addictive Ingredient, Nicotine, Over 7-Year Period

Cigarette Makers Respond continued...

Gentry noted that the up and down fluctuations in cigarette nicotine levels may be due to natural variations in nicotine levels in tobacco crops, variations in the “smoking” machines used to test nicotine levels, and changes in the range of brands available to smokers.

A spokesman for Philip Morris USA defended the company’s best-selling brand, Marlboro.

David Sutton tells WebMD that new data for 2006 show nicotine yields for the various types of Marlboro cigarettes have not increased significantly over the past decade.

“The data that we have reported for Marlboro show that in 1997 and 2006 the reported nicotine yield was the same,” he says.

Sutton notes that the company continues to support legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and others in 2005 that would lead to the regulation of cigarettes and other products containing nicotine by the FDA.

What Do Higher Levels Mean?

Connolly agrees regulation is needed to force tobacco companies to disclose important information about their products.

“People have a right to know what is in these products, and they are not getting that information,” he says. “We need agencies like the FDA that have the competency to step in and regulate these products the way we would any other drug delivery device.”

Higher nicotine levels in cigarettes do not necessarily mean higher nicotine exposures among individual smokers.

Studies suggest that smokers of cigarettes with less nicotine -- light and ultralight brands -- may smoke more cigarettes or inhale more deeply to get the same amount of nicotine as other smokers.

“We can’t say if increases in nicotine levels in cigarettes lead to higher exposures because there are so many variables in the way people smoke,” Connolly says. “We need better human testing to answer this question.”

Donna Vallone of the antismoking advocacy group The American Legacy Foundation agrees there is a need for research into the impact of product nicotine levels on human exposure, specifically as it relates to addiction.

“When you understand what the level of human exposure is, then you can actually gain information about the public health impact,” she tells WebMD.

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