Anti-smoking chief wants nicotine stubbed out

Israel's leading advocate for smoking prevention recommends the addictive substance be eliminated from cigarettes completely.

anti-smoking 88 (photo credit: )
anti-smoking 88
(photo credit: )
The chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking has recommended that nicotine - which is the main component that makes cigarettes addictive - be eliminated from cigarettes completely. Amos Hausner, the country's leading advocate for smoking prevention, was commenting to The Jerusalem Post on a report released Wednesday by the Massachusetts health department that the level of nicotine that smokers consume per cigarette, regardless of brand, has risen 10 percent in the past six years. Higher nicotine levels make it harder for smokers to kick the habit and easier for new smokers - especially children and teenagers - to become addicted. Massachusetts is one of only three US states that force tobacco companies to submit information on nicotine testing to its specifications, and it is the only state to have that data date as far back as 1998. The three brands that are most popular among young American smokers - Marlboro, Newport and Camel - delivered significantly more nicotine than they did six years ago, while nicotine consumed in Kool, a popular menthol brand, rose by 20%. Nicotine testing in the lab usually reports lower levels of nicotine, as it does not take into account how cigarettes are actually used by smokers, including taking longer puffs and partially covering ventilation holes with their lips and fingers while they smoke. The health department said that of the 179 brands it tested, 93% were in the maximum range for nicotine, compared to "only" 84% eight years ago. "We want healthcare providers to know that smokers are getting more nicotine than in the past and may need additional help in trying to quit," the public health commissioner, Paul Cote Jr., told The New York Times on Thursday. The significance of the finding is that health authorities who aim to help smokers quit may have to adjust the strength of nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine patches and gums. Hausner commented that the report highlights the fact that "too little is done in Israel to prevent smoking." The British government annually allocates the equivalent of NIS 200 million for anti-smoking education, but the Israel government spends almost nothing on this. "Why force the consumer to buy a package with an inseparable mix of lethal toxins and a highly addictive drug called nicotine, when the consumer has no ability to remove the addictive component?" Hausner said, adding that tobacco company documents show that for 35 years, they have had the capability of completely eliminating nicotine from tobacco compounds. "Manufacturers should be required to separate these two so that those who are already addicted can take nicotine in the form of sprays, chewing gum and patches rather than together with the deadly components in cigarettes. Those who haven't started to smoke will not be forced to become addicted when they succumb to powerful tobacco advertisements and marketing techniques. Nicotine is regarded by the US Department of Health and Human Services to be as addictive as heroin and cocaine," he said. The Jerusalem lawyer quoted the Clalit Health Services lawsuit - in which he represents the health fund against major tobacco companies seeking a reimbursement of NIS 7.6 billion for its smoking members - that many cigarette additives such as sugar, chocolate, licorice and vanilla are mixed into the tobacco to cover up the bitter taste of nicotine. In 1998, the Israel Medical Association asked the Supreme Court to declare nicotine a dangerous drug. But the public committee headed by Alon Gillon, which was appointed by then-health minister Shlomo Benizri seven years ago to consider labeling tobacco and nicotine as regulated "dangerous drugs," never released its recommendations because chairman Gillon did not issue a report, despite numerous commitments to the court to do so. Some of the documents that the world's tobacco companies were forced by lawsuits to release suggest that fingernails, blood and skin have been found in cigarettes, but no one monitors what's in cigarettes on the market. One tobacco company sued the American Legacy Foundation - established to promote antismoking efforts - for revealing a document which noted that adding urea to tobacco was the best way to improve the taste of cigarettes. Urea is the main component of urine. The tobacco company claimed the foundation was guilty of "vilifying" it; but Delaware's Supreme Court ruled a few days ago that the foundation was merely providing information and did not commit any act of vilification or personal attack on the company. The New York Times devoted an editorial on Thursday to the Massachusetts report, stating that "while most of us thought the country was trying to curb smoking and the rapacious habits of the tobacco companies, it turns out the industry has been sneakily making cigarettes more addictive....It is stunning to discover how easily this rogue industry was able to increase public consumption of nicotine without anyone knowing about it until Massachusetts blew the whistle... It is long past time for Congress to bring this damaging and deceitful industry under federal regulatory control. If the companies had to justify to the Food and Drug Administration why they should be allowed to increase the nicotine inhaled by smokers, you can bet they wouldn't even try."