Professor: Tobacco companies

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Cigarette makers viewed themselves as merchants of nicotine from the 1950s on and considered the cigarette the most effective way of administering the addictive drug, a Stanford University professor testified Tuesday.
The companies, according to their internal documents, discussed ways to manipulate the form of nicotine through additives so its kick could be maintained while lowering a cigarette’s nicotine and tar levels.
Adding ammonia to the cigarette increased the volume of “free” nicotine, a more potent form, in the cigarette but made the smoke more harsh, the documents showed. Adding sugar helped cut the harshness, papers from the companies indicated.
The documents introduced in Minnesota’s trial of the tobacco industry showed consistent thought within the industry about the importance of nicotine in cigarettes.
“In their documents, they expressed that they were in the drug delivery business,” said Channing Robertson, a chemical engineering professor.
Robertson is the second witness called by the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. The plaintiffs are seeking $1.77 billion in Medicaid money spent treating smoking-related illnesses, plus punitive damages.
Because tobacco companies hid their knowledge, many people continued to smoke and thus increased the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, the state has promised to show.
“Happily for the tobacco industry, nicotine is both habituating and unique in its variety of physiological actions,” Claude Teague Jr., a researcher for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., wrote in a 1972 memo.
The previously confidential documents contained “repeated reference” to how people begin smoking and why they continue, he said.
Documents of Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris Inc., and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. all expressed the view that the companies considered their product to be nicotine.
In 1978, a meeting was held in the New York office of The Council for Tobacco Research-U.S.A. Inc. to discuss a grant aimed at making a clinically accepted “antagonist” to nicotine.
Such an antagonist would block the effects of nicotine on a smoker, Robertson testified.
A memo from the meeting indicated development of such a product “would put tobacco companies out of business.”
The companies also wrote internally about nicotine’s habit-forming properties while making no such admission publicly, Robertson said.