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How Big Tobacco made cigarettes more addictive

The surgeon general’s 2014 report on the health consequences of smoking found that as smoking rates decreased over the past 50 years, the risk of dying from cigarette smoking increased. How could that be?

Over the past 50-plus years, tobacco companies have leveraged modern science to manipulate their products to make them even more addictive.“The evidence is sufficient to conclude that the increased risk of” death and disease — specifically lung cancer — “results from changes in the design and composition of cigarettes since the 1950s,” states the surgeon general’s “The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress” report.


Experts found that Big Tobacco companies genetically engineered their tobacco crops to contain two times the amount of nicotine

One way the tobacco industry has manipulated cigarettes to increase addictiveness is by loading cigarettes with chemical compounds. Bronchodilators were added so that tobacco smoke can more easily enter the lungs. Sugars, flavors and menthol were increased to dull the harshness of smoke and make it easier to inhale. Ammonia was added so that nicotine travels to the brain faster.

Specifically, increasing the amount of nicotine was of paramount importance to tobacco company executives. Experts found that Big Tobacco companies genetically engineered their tobacco crops to contain two times the amount of nicotine and adjusted their cigarette design so that the nicotine delivered to smokers increased by 14.5 percent. As Phillip Morris Principal Scientist W.L. Dunn said in 1972, “No one has ever become a cigarette smoker by smoking cigarettes without nicotine.”

The reason we know all of this is because tobacco companies were forced to publicly release scientific studies and internal documents in 1998. They have also been forced to publicly admit their strategies. In November 2017, tobacco companies began a court-ordered advertisement campaign admitting the variety of ways they manipulated the public, including that they designed cigarettes to be more addictive and lied about it. Four Big Tobacco companies paid for the campaign after a U.S. district judge ordered them to set the record straight with corrective statements to counter years of misleading marketing.

The result of these “innovations” in cigarette design is devastating. The surgeon general found that “today’s cigarette smokers — both men and women — have a much higher risk for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than smokers in 1964, despite smoking fewer cigarettes.” Even though there are fewer smokers today than there were decades ago, smoking remains the number one cause of preventable death, accounting for 1,300 American deaths every day.