Tobacco witness says ammonia just for taste

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) —Tobacco companies add ammonia to some cigarettes because it creates a smoother smoke and creates a chocolate-like flavor, a researcher for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said Tuesday.
Plaintiffs in Minnesota’s tobacco trial have alleged that cigarette makers added ammonia to increase the pH of smoke so the nicotine in tobacco reaches the brain more quickly to provide a stronger “kick” for the smoker.
But researcher David Townsend testified that there is little change in pH when Reynolds adds ammonia to its cigarettes.
“At the levels of ammonia we use in our commercial products, we did not see an increase in pH,” he said.
He also cited the 1979 U.S. surgeon general’s report on smoking and health, which said U.S. cigarettes have little of the more potent “free” form of nicotine said to be created by adding ammonia.
Reynolds began to experiment with ammonia in the 1950s and first used ammoniated tobacco in its Camel Filters in 1974, said Townsend, vice president of product development and assessment for Reynolds.
“Marlboro was doing extremely well in the market compared to our products,” and researchers thought Philip Morris Inc. might be using ammoniated tobacco in its No. 1 brand, Townsend said.
Ammonia reacts with sugars and forms a number of flavorful compounds, he said. “It does affect the smoke quality. It does affect the flavor characteristics.”
In 1982, Charles Green wrote in a Reynolds quarterly research report about tobacco flavor changes caused by ammonia.
“Ammoniated tobaccos produce a smoke with altered flavor and aroma properties. The flavor becomes more chocolate-like,” Green wrote.
“The attributes of ammoniated tobaccos, less irritation and more chocolate flavor, have also been used to describe major product differences between our products and those of our major competitor,” he wrote.
“We do not know if this gives them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
Measurements taken by Reynolds’ researchers in 1974 showed little difference in pH between ammoniated Camel Filters and non-ammoniated Winstons, according to a company memo.
It wasn’t until 1979 that Reynolds first began using ammoniated tobacco in Winstons.
Townsend said the company does not use ammoniated tobacco in all of its cigarettes because different smokers want different taste characteristics.
“In fact, more of the products we sell are not ammoniated than those that are,” he said.
Customer likes and dislikes also were brought up as Townsend told jurors of Reynolds’ attempts to develop a smokeless cigarette that had less tar. In the Premier cigarette, the tobacco was heated but not burned.
Premier was test-marketed in Arizona and Missouri, but never caught on.
“It was difficult to light,” Townsend said. “The taste characteristics were quite different, too. It didn’t taste like other cigarettes.”
“New products must be consumer-acceptable,” he added. “We didn’t launch that product nationally because it was clearly unacceptable. For any product to make progress on smoking and health issues, consumer acceptance is essential.”
The state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota have alleged that the tobacco industry researched issues of smoking and health but lied to the public about the dangers while manipulating nicotine to keep smokers hooked. They are seeking $1.77 billion they say they’ve spent treating smoking-related illnesses, plus punitive damages.