US cigarettes 'spiked'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

American cigarette manufacturers are adding extra nicotine to their products to ensure that their customers retain their addiction to smoking, according to a US government body, writes David Usborne.

The powerful Food and Drug Administration made the claim in a letter to Congress which also urged that cigarettes should be treated as potentially hazardous drugs whose sale should be subject to government controls.

The letter said that in the course of the manufacturing process, nicotine extract is sprayed on to sheets of tobacco fibre before they are shredded for use in cigarettes. The head of the FDA, David Kessler, said companies were adding nicotine in this way 'to achieve drug effects in some smokers'.

The letter, signed by Mr Kessler, represents an extraordinary shift in official attitudes in the US and a big step in the direction of regulation - possibly even prohibition in the long run - of most tobacco sales.

Mr Kessler acknowledges that subjecting tobacco to government controls 'could mean, ultimately, removal from the market of tobacco products' that contain high levels of nicotine. The implication is that only nicotine-free cigarettes could still be freely sold.

Congress immediately agreed to hold hearings on the FDA proposal, but members are certain to come under fierce pressure from the tobacco lobby to resist legislation.

Anti-smoking sentiment is growing rapidly in America. Only last week the McDonald's hamburger chain announced it was banning smoking in its restaurants, and legislation has been introduced into Congress that would prohibit smoking in almost any public place.

Mr Kessler concedes that a total ban on cigarette sales could have serious consequences. 'One must consider the possible effects of the loss of this source of nicotine on the health of some people who are addicted to nicotine and the possible need for a weaning period,' he wrote. 'It is also important to consider the potential for a black market in nicotine-containing cigarettes.'