Michael Siegel finds that the recent Massachusetts Department of Public Health report on rising nicotine yields in American cigarettes, which generated substantial press coverage and indignant editorials, was wrong in at least one important respect: The nicotine yields of cigarettes produced by industry leader Philip Morris, which the report said were on the rise, have in fact remained pretty much the same since 1997, the first year of testing using the Massachusetts method (which is thought to better simulate smoking than the "FTC method" used for the numbers in ads and on packages). By excluding data for 1997 and 2005, Siegel concludes, the MDPH created a misleading impression of rising nicotine yields, since nicotine levels in Philip Morris brands were unusually low in 1998 and dropped between 2004 and 2005. "There was actually a decline in the average nicotine yield of Marlboro cigarettes over the entire period 1997-2005, from 1.85 mg to 1.80 mg," Siegel writes.
In any case, as I noted after the report came out, there is nothing necessarily sinister about rising nicotine yields, which should, if anything, make cigarettes slightly less hazardous. Which means anti-smoking activists can now fault Philip Morris for failing to raise nicotine yields, which might have reduced smokers' intake of toxins and carcinogens.