Smokers kept in the dark about cigarette ingredients

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Boston, MA - Tobacco manufacturers have been mucking about with the ingredients of cigarettes without telling consumers.


As President Obama prepares to sign a bill giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of the tobacco industry, a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) shows that manufacturers have continually changed the ingredients and the design of their cigarettes over time, with changes going well beyond acceptable product variance guidelines.


The result, say the researchers, is that consumers who buy the same brand over time are not made aware of how the product has been altered and what effect those alterations might have on their levels of addiction or harm.


"I hope the FDA requires disclosure of any changes made to tobacco products and that the changes are disallowed if shown to increase appeal, addiction and harm," said Greg Connolly, director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at HSPH.


For their study, Connolly and lead author Geoffrey Ferris Wayne, an HSPH researcher, studied internal tobacco company documents released following the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. These documents describe significant changes made to commercial products over time, including blend, processing, casing, flavoring and physical design features. For example, new methods were developed to process tobacco, altering the smoke chemistry and the form of nicotine delivery, and the levels of processed tobaccos were regularly adjusted within brands. For the most part, these changes were not disclosed to consumers, say the researchers.


"Even incremental changes that occur over a period of years can result in significant design differences. The resulting product may have altered chemistry or delivery, yet the smoker is largely unaware of these changes. This underscores the need for industry transparency and accountability," said Ferris Wayne.


The study builds on earlier research done at HSPH on how products are designed to enhance appeal and addiction. At Senate hearings on the FDA bill last year, Connolly discussed that research, including how tobacco companies have increased nicotine content over time, manipulated menthol and added candy-like flavors to enhance appeal to children.


The study appears in the Online First section of the Journal of Tobacco Control.