Rising Nicotine in Cigarettes Could Lead to Litigation

ByABC News
January 18, 2007, 4:44 PM

Jan. 18, 2007 — -- Bill Roberts has been a pack-a-day smoker for years.

And if the Chicago-based 30-year-old's lack of concern over the news that cigarette companies have been steadily raising nicotine levels in cigarettes is any indication, it is likely that he will continue his pack-a-day habit for many more years to come.

"Personally, this is not something that bothers me," Roberts says. "I am aware of the health risks of smoking. I do not believe that this is something that is good for me.

"Increased nicotine levels seem to come part and parcel with the compromises that you are willing to make to your health to smoke."

Roberts' nonchalance, though perhaps not shared by all smokers, may indicate one of the chief problems when it comes to tackling smoking as a public health issue.

And with the finding of increased nicotine levels in cigarettes, public health experts say that even those smokers who are willing to quit may have a harder time doing so.

However, the new study confirming that cigarette companies have been steadily increasing levels of addictive nicotine in its cigarettes could change the way the government deals with the tobacco industry.

And some public health experts suggest the findings may also lead the public into another round of litigation against cigarette companies.

The study by the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the current issue of the medical journal Lancet, shows that manufacturers increased nicotine levels in their products by close to 11 percent between 1997 and 2005.

"The cigarette is a reservoir, so the cigarette companies are increasing the potential of the smoker to extract nicotine," says Gregory Connolly, the lead author of the study.

The study's researchers say the findings are troubling with regard to both current smokers, for whom the nicotine increases could affect their addiction to cigarettes, and young smokers, who could get addicted to the more potent cigarettes more easily.

"The research has been done, showing that even just one exposure to nicotine triggers changes in the brain that put a child at risk of becoming a smoker," says Hillel Alpert, research analyst at the Harvard School of Public Health and an author of the study.