Nicotine Content of Average Cigarette Up Slightly, U.S. Says
The amount of nicotine in the average cigarette made by U.S. tobacco companies rose slightly between 1995 and 1997, according to latest test results by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC warned the 1996 and 1997 results might be misleading because a smoker could compensate for lighting up a low-nicotine cigarette by taking bigger or more frequent puffs. ``The commission is concerned that smokers may incorrectly believe . . . they will get three times as much tar from a 15 mg. tar cigarette as from a 5 mg. tar cigarette,'' the report said. ``It is possible for smokers to get as much tar and nicotine from relatively low-rated cigarettes as from higher-rated ones.''
The average cigarette, weighted by sales of each brand, delivered 12 milligrams of tar and 0.89 milligrams of nicotine in 1997, and the average nicotine content increased from 0.87 milligrams in 1995 to 0.88 milligrams in 1996, the FTC said.
Average tar content of cigarettes was unchanged since 1995 when levels for both nicotine and tar reached the lowest point since the FTC began testing in 1968. The average content for tar that year was 1.6 milligrams and for nicotine 1.35 milligrams. Results are weighted to adjust for the popularity of particular brands.
Studies suggesting increased mortality risk among smokers despite declining nicotine and tar content raises questions about test methods, the FTC said. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department is expected to complete within a year a study of the method by which machines draw smoke from 1,252 varieties of American-made cigarettes to measure tar and nicotine.
The FTC said its concern about test methods also was based on findings that ``changes in smoking behavior and cigarette design appear to have resulted in an increase in a type of cancer that occurs deeper in the lung than the lung cancer traditionally associated with smoking.''
Test results were obtained under subpoena from the Tobacco Industry Testing Laboratory, which has been testing brands made by Philip Morris Cos., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., Brooke Group Ltd., Liggett Group Inc. and British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. since 1987. The FTC conducted the tests before then. Results of testing generic and private-label brands were obtained directly from manufacturers of those cigarettes, the FTC said.
In 1997, the lowest tar and nicotine levels were found in king-sized Carlton, king-sized Now and Now 100 cigarettes. Each of these filtered brands had less than 0.5 milligrams of tar and 0.05 milligrams of nicotine.
King-sized varieties of Bristol, Commander and Basic non- filtered cigarettes had the highest levels of tar and nicotine. Each had 27 milligrams of tar and 1.7 milligrams of nicotine.
The FTC study was released less than a week after the Justice Department sued the five U.S. cigarette makers and their parent companies to recover billions of dollars the government spent through federal health insurance programs such as Medicare to treat sick smokers. The lawsuit accuses the tobacco companies of conspiring since the early 1950s to suppress information about the health risks of cigarettes.