An article in yesterday's Boston University Daily Free Press highlights my commentary about the misleading nature of anti-smoking groups' public response to the nicotine yield report released by researchers at Harvard last week (see front page here).
The article, entitled "BU professor calls nicotine study misleading," states: "A Boston University professor is challenging a recent Harvard School of Public Health study that reported cigarette companies have been increasing nicotine levels in cigarettes since 1997. ... In questioning the results, BU School of Public Health professor Michael Siegel said the study is misleading to the public. Siegel, who has studied tobacco control for 21 years, said he does not challenge the study's findings, which were released Jan. 18, agreeing that nicotine levels have generally increased. However, he disagreed with the study's report that tobacco company [brand] Marlboro increased its cigarettes' nicotine levels."
"'I was intrigued by this topic because [Harvard] concluded that Marlboro was increasing their nicotine yield and Philip Morris released that the 2006 level was equal to the 1997 level,' he said. ... 'Why was there this direct contradiction? . . . The only way to resolve it was to look at the data myself.'"
"Siegel said he looked at the reports for the 16 sub-brands of Marlboro and extended the Harvard study through 2006 ... He found that the Marlboro nicotine counts at the beginning and end of the 10-year period were the same, which he said is important because '40 percent of the market is Marlboro.' 'I don't see how you could possibly conclude that it has gone up,' Siegel said. 'It's no higher now than it was nine years ago...'"
"Siegel said the issue was larger than a data discrepancy because the Harvard study was misleading, implying that raising nicotine levels is a bad practice, [and noted that] lowering nicotine levels would increase cancer rates because smokers would increase puffs to get more nicotine and 'get a higher tar delivery.'"
The Rest of the Story
I'm glad that the rest of the story is starting to be told. It is critical that the public have an accurate understanding of the scientific and policy considerations regarding nicotine in cigarettes. This will not, however, be the last article that exposes the misleading nature of the anti-smoking groups' communications on this issue. It is only the first.