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Philip Morris challenges state nicotine study

The nation's biggest tobacco company yesterday challenged a finding by Massachusetts health officials that the average amount of nicotine in cigarettes rose significantly from 1998 to 2004.

A statement from Philip Morris USA, maker of the best-selling Marlboro brand, said that its analysis of data from a different period -- 1997 through 2005 -- showed that ``no general trend" could be discerned about nicotine levels in 18 of its brands. Small variations are a normal part of cigarette production, said company spokesman Mike Neese .

The state report had examined nicotine in 21 of the company's products.

``We stand by our study," said Donna Rheaume , a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health.

The state reported that the amount of inhalable nicotine in the 21 Marlboro brands rose 8.6 percent from the start to the end of the seven years evaluated. The company study, which included three fewer brands, found a 2.2 percent increase during the nine years it examined.

The response from the company, which had declined earlier requests for comment, arrived nearly two weeks after the release of the state study. Lorillard Tobacco Company declined to comment yesterday, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. , the other major US cigarette manufacturer, did not return a late-afternoon telephone call yesterday.

The study from the state public health department was mandated by the Legislature in 1996 and used data provided by the companies.

Asked why Philip Morris did not respond sooner to the report, Neese said, ``I'm not going to comment specifically on the time, but we reviewed the study."

Nicotine is the chemical that causes cigarettes to be addictive, and the state study released last month found higher levels in all classes of cigarettes, including those branded ``light."

The nicotine levels in the state and company studies were determined using a machine that simulates a typical smoker's puffing.

The company, in its statement, said, ``Many public health authorities agree that machine test methods are not an accurate way to determine what is `actually delivered to the smoker's lungs.' "

Although earlier machine methods had been criticized, tobacco control specialists interviewed last month said that the technique adopted by Massachusetts authorities is believed to be more reliable.

Neese said he could not provide details of why nicotine levels fluctuate. ``It's the normal process of growing tobacco and manufacturing cigarettes, and that's really all I can say about that," the company spokesman said.

Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com. To see the Massachusetts Department of Public Health nicotine report, go to www.mass.gov/dph/mtcp/wn_mtcp.htm. For the Philip Morris response, go to pmusa.com/en/about_us/news_media/pressroom/press_releases/articles/PR_09_09_2006_Philip_Morris_USA_Comments_on_the_Massachusetts_De.asp.

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