US uncovers double-strength tobacco 'plot'

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The Independent Online
A COMPANY owned by the British conglomerate British American Tobacco (BAT), secretly cultivated a genetically- altered tobacco plant with twice the usual nicotine content and set about using it in cigarettes sold in the US, the Clinton administration said yesterday.

The US government also says it has obtained industry documents demonstrating that companies routinely add ammonia to cigarettes as a means of boosting the amount of nicotine that enters the bloodstream of smokers.

The allegation was made during a congressional hearing into the tobacco industry by the chief of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), David Kessler. The FDA is considering recommending national laws to regulate tobacco as a drug, which could lead ultimately to a ban on cigarettes.

For several months, Mr Kessler has been building a case that tobacco companies have for years 'spiked' their brands with nicotine to keep smokers from breaking the habit.

The high-nicotine plant was allegedly developed by Brown and Williamson (B & W), America's third largest tobacco company and a division of BAT. According to Mr Kessler, B & W secretly grew the genetically-altered plant on farms in Brazil and shipped a first commercial consignment of its leaf to the US last September. Codenamed Y-1, the plant allegedly achieves a 6.2 per cent nicotine content by weight compared with the normal 3 per cent. Mr Kessler said the company had denied breeding the plant until four days ago, when it found out about the evidence in the FDA's possession.

Industry executives are expected to rebut the wider charges during testimony tomorrow. Yesterday, the R J Reynolds Tobacco Company sponsored full-page advertisements in national newspapers featuring other 'unhealthy' but popular products: beer, coffee and hamburgers. Implying that they too might soon be the target of legislation, the headline says: 'Today It's Cigarettes. Tomorrow?'