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Nicotine study faulty

September 13th, 2006 at 02:29 am


The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently issued a report based on data from 1998 to 2004 that concluded "the amount of nicotine that is actually delivered to the smoker's lungs has increased significantly." The MDPH report cites Philip Morris USA and its Marlboro brand.

The principal reason the MDPH report seems to show an upward trend for Marlboro is because it did not include the earliest reported data from 1997 and the most recent reported data from November 2005. We believe that when one looks at the Marlboro data from all the years reported to the MDPH (1997 through 2005), there are variations in nicotine yields, both up and down, in different brand packings, but there is no trend in nicotine yields, up or down.

For example, the nicotine yield measured in Marlboro Lights King Size Box, the largest selling cigarette brand packing in the country, went up from 1997 to 1998, down in 1999, up in 2000, down in 2001, up in 2002, down in 2003, up in 2004 and down in 2005. The annual variability, both up and down, ranged from 0.01 to 0.11 milligrams of nicotine. These year-to-year variations occur because of the normal processes of growing tobacco and manufacturing cigarettes.

The MDPH report also links the nicotine measured by a smoking machine to nicotine "delivered to the smoker." Other public health authorities have said one should not link machine smoking to human smoking. For example, the World Health Organization Study Group on Tobacco Regulation concluded that "machine testing protocols are not likely to provide a valid basis for predicting health effects or for making claims about health effects because such protocols do not predict how the products will be used by individuals or at the population level."

We do not believe that the MDPH's conclusions about the trends in nicotine yields for Marlboro are supported by the 1997 through 2005 data. Even so, there are some fundamental conclusions that Philip Morris USA and the MDPH seem to share: Cigarette smoking is addictive, cigarette smoking causes disease and death, and comprehensive federal Food and Drug Administration regulation of the tobacco industry would be good public health policy.

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