With fewer and fewer public places to light up, don’t you wonder about those poor souls still huddled outside in frigid weather, dragging on a cigarette? Well, if they haven’t kicked the habit yet, Big Tobacco is making it more difficult to do just that, according to a study just released by Harvard.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say they have confirmed a study by the state of Massachusetts that found nicotine levels in cigarettes increased from 1997 until 2005. Based on data submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health by cigarette manufacturers, the analyses found that increases in smoke nicotine yield per cigarette averaged 1.6 percent each year, for a total of about 11 percent over a seven-year period.
The Massachusetts Health Department released its study last October. The study examined nicotine levels in more than 100 brands over a six-year period. It demonstrated a steady rise in the amount of nicotine delivered to smokers.
The research indicates that the increase found in Harvard’s study is due primarily to an increase in nicotine in the raw tobacco used in the cigarettes. But it is not clear whether that increase is the result of the raw tobacco being used or more nicotine in the reconstituted tobacco.
The findings call into question whether the tobacco industry is acting in accord with the 1998 agreement with states that it would launch a campaign to reduce smoking by young people. The higher nicotine levels make it easier to get hooked on cigarettes and harder to quit, thus improving the likelihood that a casual teen smoker will become addicted.
Cigarette manufacturers disputed the findings of both studies, claiming that the data simply reflect random variations in cigarette nicotine yields. Philip Morris USA argued that data reported to the state by the company shows nicotine yields for the Marlboro cigarettes were the same in 2006 and 1997.
Massachusetts is one of three states to require tobacco companies to submit information about nicotine testing according to its specifications and the only state with data going back to 1997. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is now chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, promised to reintroduce within weeks a bill that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes.

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