Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More nicotine for your dollar from the merchants of death

The Harvard School of Public Health have published a study showing that the nicotine content of cigarettes has increased in the US by 11% during the period 1997-2005. Nicotine is the primary agent that makes smoking addictive.

As I recently suggested it is inappropriate to define smoking in terms of the number of cigarettes consumed. Smoking is a nicotine delivery vehicle. Consumers change their smoking practices in response to such things as changed prices – with price increases they puff harder and inhale longer to achieve desired nicotine concentrations in their brain. This has significant effects in offsetting the effects of higher cigarette prices on health. It is also well-known that smokers who switch to low nicotine cigarettes increase their smoking intake to maintain nicotine levels.

Judge Kessler in the US District Court for the District of Columbia has also made it clear that tobacco companies modify nicotine levels to sustain addictions. Indeed these companies ‘…can and do control the level of nicotine delivered in order to create and sustain addiction’. Sworn evidence by ex-industry insiders in a number of other legal cases (cited in the Harvard study) make it clear that firms manipulate nicotine levels to maintain addictions.

The Harvard study shows that tobacco companies have increased nicotine yields per cigarette by 1.1% annually from 1997-2005 and by 1.6% annually from 1998-2005. This occurred in all types of cigarettes – mentholated, full-flavour, ultra-light – the lot. It occurred by increase nicotine concentration in the ‘tobacco rod’, by reducing the effectiveness of the filter on cigarettes and by reducing the cigarette burn rate which encourages more puffs per cigarette and hence more nicotine intake. More nicotine is delivered per puff and ceteris paribus per dollar.

The effect of these measures is to make it easier to get addicted to smoking. It also enables low income consumers to maintain their addictions in the face of rising cigarette prices.


Anonymous said...

Congrats on the article but had difficulty with the time periods and periods of annual rise. Should it be 1997-1995 as posted or to 2005. Similarly confusing re 1.1 and 1.6 over the time periods shown.
James Crotty

hc said...

Thanks James, fixed.

The time periods are as in original paper. I think there were distinctive regulatory requirements in 1997 so the authors estimated changes 97-05 and 98-05 separately.

Sam Ward said...

"Merchants Of Death" is the title used by the characters in the recent film "Thank You For Smoking". Are you slyly taking the piss Harry?

hc said...

Sam, No I haven't seen the film. But you see I have a poetic realism.

Sam Ward said...

You should see it. It's quite funny and right up your alley.

derrida derider said...

But surely this is a good thing, Harry. People can now get their nicotine fix while inhaling less carcinogen-laden smoke than they used to.

It's the reverse of the (empirically supported) argument about the uselessness of mandating low-nicotine cigarettes - all that then happens is that addicts smoke more of them.

hc said...

DD, I am not sure about offsetting benefits from reduced tars. My guess is the benefits are small because the firms rely on reduced filtering and higher nicotine content in the 'log'.

There might be some small benefit but the effects of drawing harder are apparently medically adverse - I reference the source in my earlier post. The induced liung cancers are worse.

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