News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Are tobacco firms spiking cigarettes with nicotine?

A study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health raises disturbing questions about the safety of cigarettes and the lengths to which tobacco companies will go in order to keep selling them.

According to the study, reported by the Boston Globe and The Washington Post, most cigarettes in 2004 had almost 10 percent more nicotine than in 1998, and the biggest increases showed up in the brands most popular with young people and minorities.

Nicotine is both harmful and addictive, and higher levels of nicotine could make it harder for people to quit smoking. This is bad news for people's health but good news, of course, for the tobacco companies.

Those companies' livelihood depends on keeping as many smokers hooked as possible and recruiting new, preferably young smokers to replace the ones they kill. Whatever posturing the tobacco companies may do about discouraging young people from smoking, these death merchants know they benefit every time a young person experiments with cigarettes and then gets addicted before he or she recognizes the need to quit.

The tobacco companies are not talking about the new study, in part because they lost another lawsuit about two weeks ago and they are reassessing what they can say publicly. But the study results speak loudly enough to suggest a government investigation. Congress should hold hearings and consider legislation to regulate the companies more closely.

As Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "The reports are stunning. What's critical is the consistency of the increase, which leads to the conclusion that it has to have been conscious and deliberate."

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