Nicotine manipulation

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Nicotine manipulation refers to the ways in which nicotine, or the delivery of nicotine to the smoker, are intentionally altered. Nicotine is manipulated through various means, including genetic alteration of tobacco plants, adjustment of smoke pH (for example using freebasing), manipulation of sugars in tobacco or the use of additives to enhance nicotine's effects.[1][2] Goals of nicotine manipulation include enhancement of the physical motivation for smoking, bolstering the long-term use of cigarettes (addiction maintenance)[3], prevention of smoking cessation, improved ability to use poorer-quality tobaccos, and maintenance of "satisfaction of the consumer."[4][5]

Philip Morris' use of diammonium phosphate to manipulate nicotine impact

Philip Morris was the first to discover that the application of diammonium phosphate (DAP) on tobacco gave the smoker a more rapid impact from nicotine after first lighting up. According to a British American Tobacco (BAT) document, the history of the use of DAP "trac[es] back to the early 1960's, at which point in time diammonium phosphate was first patented by Philip Morris for its ability to release pectin during [tobacco] sheet formation and thus provide a natural binder capable of holding the cast sheet together." The use of DAP led to the accidental discovery that the chemical favorably altered smoke taste and flavor. Philip Morris subsequently devoted much effort to optimizing this discovery.

By the mid-1970s, Philip Morris had started using its new nicotine-enhancing technology on its Marlboro and Merit brands, and reaped a resulting increase in sales which drew the attention of competing cigarette manufacturers.

Philip Morris, BAT and R.J. Reynolds (RJR) soon found that when applied to certain types of strong, harsh tobaccos, the application of DAP toned down harshness in the tobacco and led to higher-than-expected nicotine impact due to improved nicotine transfer into smoke, and greater proportions of nicotine in freebase (or "extractable") form. [6]

In 1973, RJR chemically analyzed competing brands of cigarettes that were excelling in sales to see how they differed from RJR's products. They found that the smoke from these other products (specifically Marlboro and Kool) was more alkaline, and that this caused more of the nicotine to go into "free" form (vapor form), "which is volatile, rapidly absorbed by the smoker and believe to be instantly perceived as nicotine 'kick.' " RJR correlated the difference in smoke pH with improved market performance of these brands, saying

Our preliminary correlations strongly suggest that ... the vigorous, sustained growth in sales of Marlboro (and other Philip Morris brands) and Kool correlates closely with the increased smoke pH, hence increased 'free' nicotine and nicotine impact of those brands.[7]

The name for this chemical process is "free basing," the same term used to describe a process drug abusers apply to cocaine to yield a more rapid, intense onset of the drug's effects.[8]

R.J. Reynolds' "REST Process"

Around 1990, R.J. Reynolds developed the "REST Process," a chemical method for manipulating the amount of nicotine in tobacco.

REST is an acronym that stands for "Reestablishment (or 'Restoration') of Solubles within Tobacco." The process apparently rose out of RJR's "Controlled Nicotine Project." The goal of the Controlled Nicotine Project was to create a low-cost way to improve tobacco while providing tobaccos with specific nicotine levels. RJR scientist Barry Smith Fagg worked on the overall project, called the "REST Controlled Nicotine Project."

The REST Process allowed RJR to "engineer processes to meet business objectives" by using lower-cost tobaccos and providing product consistency while manipulating nicotine delivery to the smoker's body. The REST Process allowed separate chemical manipulation of both solubles and insolubles within tobacco.

Another stated goal of RJR's Controlled Nicotine Project, was "To develop a viable process for the total control of nicotine in product, in conjunction with the 'REST' process, without affecting smoking performance other than attributes connected to nicotine." Basic development and process specifications were planned to be completed by the end of 1991.

An RJR report abut the project states the goal of the Controlled Nicotine Process:

We are basically in the nicotine business. It is in the best long term interest for RJR to be able to control and effectively utilize every pound of nicotine we purchase. Effective control of nicotine in our products should equate to a significant product performance and cost advantage.[9]

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British American Tobacco and "ROOT Technology"

British American Tobacco (BAT) developed a process it called "ROOT Technology" to manipulate nicotine. ROOT technology was apparently the same, or similar to the technique most major cigarette manufacturers eventually adopted: applying diammonium phosphate, or freebasing nicotine through the addition of ammonia.

Notes from a British American Tobacco (BAT) company scientist (D. Irwin) written in March, 1993 discuss "ROOT Technology," a BAT term for enhancing nicotine delivery to smokers by adding ammonia-based compounds to tobacco, the same technique used in freebasing nicotine. Irwin states, "Ammonia increases impact because it increases smoke pH which enhances impact." <tdo>search_term="ROOT Technology"</tdo>

Brown & Williamson's Y-1 Tobacco

In 1999, Brown & Williamson's director of leaf blending, Roger Black, gave a deposition in a class-action suit in New York against the major tobacco companies in which he said that since 1981, B&W had been working on developing a genetically altered, nicotine-enriched strain of tobacco plant that the company code-named Y-1. In 1984 and 1985, Y-1 was grown in the United States and was added to domestic cigarette brands. Later B&W had a Brazilian company grow large quantities of Y-1 tobacco destined for the world market. The plants were grown from seed originally supplied by Brown & Williamson. It has been illegal to export tobacco seeds from the United States without a permit.

B&W did not inform the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of this genetic alternation in their products. Rather, it wasn't until 1994 that the FDA first discovered that B&W had been using the nicotine-rich leaf in American cigarettes during the years 1993 and 1994. After the FDA told Congress about the company's use of the genetically-engineered tobacco, B&W admitted that up to 11% of the content of five of its brands was Y-1. At that point, the company assured the FDA that it would stop using Y-1.However, Black's deposition showed that the company quietly resumed use of the high-nicotine tobacco a year later. B&W claimed the company did not use Y-1 to increase the amount of nicotine in its commercial cigarettes. Federal regulation barred the growth of such altered nicotine in the United States, and the U.S. Department of Justice charged that B&W had the tobacco grown outside of the country to conceal its development.

Black, in his deposition, said the company had also used Y-1 in 1992. He said executives ordered the 1994 halt because they feared bad publicity.[10][11]

Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. David Tannenbaum Smoking Guns II: Nicotine Manipulation Multinational Monitor, July/August, 1998; Volume 19, Number 7 & 8
  2. P. Lipiello, R.J. Reynolds RDM89 267. Enhancement of Nicotine Binding to Nicotinic Receptors by Nicotine Levulinate and Levulinic Acid Scientific report. 27 pp. September 25, 1989. Bates No. 508295794/5820
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Federal Regsiater Part II 21 CFR Part 801, ET AL. Regulations restricting the sale and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobaco to protect children and adolescents, Final Rule, Published regulation, August 28, 1996. 83 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2072325873/5955, at PDF page #16
  4. Doug Campbell Documents discuss nicotine levels and marketing to teens Newspaper article. Greensboro News and Record; June 28, 1998. Lorillard Bates No. 86591895/1904 at pages 3 and 4
  5. R.J. Reynolds [ REST Process Program, July 31, 1992 (920731). Report. 7 pp. July 31, 1992. Bates No. 508400881/0887
  6. M.Coleman, British American Tobacco Report on Root technology Report. 47 pp. November 26, 1991. Bates No. 402444072/4118
  7. Claued E. Teague, Jr., R.J. Reynolds Implications and Activities Arising From Correlation of Smoke Ph with Nicotine Impact, Other Smoke Qualities, and Cigarette Sales. Scientific report. 29 pages. October, 1993. Bates No. 500917506/7534
  8. Wikipedia page on Freebase chemistry, accessed February 4, 2009
  9. R.J. Reynolds [ REST Process Program, July 31, 1992 (920731). Report. 7 pp. July 31, 1992. Bates No. 508400881/0887
  10. Associated Press/USA Today Firm exports high-nicotine cigarettes, 1999
  11. J. Vicini U.S. government brings first tobacco criminal charges Reuters Financial Report. January 7, 1998. Bates No. 522608892/8893

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