Three former Philip Morris officials have declared that the tobacco company, well aware of nicotine’s addictive nature, was preoccupied with manipulating the nicotine level in cigarettes to hook people on its products, according to affidavits released Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The statements support a growing body of accounts by former industry insiders that contradicts statements by the companies’ executives and could bolster the FDA’s efforts to regulate tobacco.
In one of the affidavits, Ian L. Uydess, who worked 11 years for the company before leaving in 1989, said “nicotine levels were routinely targeted and adjusted by Philip Morris in its various products. …”
“Philip Morris wanted to know everything there was to know about nicotine,” Uydess said. “Nicotine has always been an important consideration to Philip Morris in the design, development and manufacturing of cigarettes.”
The officials said Philip Morris built an “olfactometer” to give smokers precise amounts of nicotine and other chemicals. The machine, when combined with a computer and neurologists’ equipment, recorded nicotine interacting with the brain.
At certain levels, the nicotine “appeared to mimic … addictive substances like cocaine,” testified Uydess.
The affidavits were given to the FDA within the last several weeks as part of the agency’s investigation. The FDA claims jurisdiction over cigarettes because of the addictive properties of nicotine, saying nicotine is a drug and cigarettes are drug-delivery systems.
The agency has proposed curbing teenagers’ access to cigarettes and restricting advertising, saying it has authority under its drug and medical device statutes.
FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler said the affidavits contain “information that we believe the public should know. These documents shed light on the role of nicotine in the design and manufacture of cigarettes.”
The tobacco industry is fighting the agency’s moves in the courts and elsewhere.
In response to Uydess’ claims, Philip Morris issued a statement Monday saying “we have not been given the courtesy of having the opportunity to review the affidavit, and therefore cannot comment on it.”
The affidavits contradict sworn testimony given by the chief executives of the nation’s major tobacco companies before Congress in 1994. All said nicotine was not addictive, but insisted that their comments reflected their own opinions.
Among other things, the Justice Department has been investigating whether these executives committed perjury when testifying before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health.
William Campbell, president of Philip Morris USA at the time, told the subcommittee, then chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., that his company “does not manipulate nor independently control the level of nicotine in our cigarettes.”
A nationwide class action suit is also pending, charging that the industry lied to the public about the addictive nature of nicotine. Ligget Group, the smallest of the major tobacco companies, settled its part of that suit last week. The other companies have said they intend to fight the action.
Uydess said that “impact” was the in-house term used by company officials to describe the physiological effects that nicotine produced in smokers; while top company officials insisted publicly that nicotine was not addictive, “a number of scientists like myself believed differently,” he said.
“Smokers have told Philip Morris (via test panels, etc.) that there is no ‘impact’ in a cigarette that lacks nicotine,” he said.
Uydess also described what he called an “inner company” within Philip Morris that “appeared to conduct research outside of normal channels,” focusing on studies that would obtain information about how its products could affect human genetics, behavior and the brain.
This group was planning and coordinating studies “that could potentially impact the health and well-being of the public (the smoker),” he said.
William A. Farone, the company’s director of applied research from 1976 to 1984, agreed in an affidavit that the company “applied considerable effort and manpower to the study of nicotine in order to understand this relationship between nicotine and the smoker’s needs.”
Company scientists, Farone said, “promoted the need to provide adequate levels of nicotine in the product, and to maintain adequate levels of nicotine in order to keep smokers satisfied.”
Waxman said Congress should conduct further investigations in light of the latest findings, but he asserted lawmakers had “been silenced because of payoffs from the tobacco industry.”
“It’s important for the Justice Department to conduct its inquiry because Congress is not going to do its job,” Waxman said. Philip Morris’ stock skidded more than $5 a share on the New York Stock Exchange by midday after the new accusations were made public.
Other tobacco stocks also tumbled.
The FDA said it would extend the public comment on its proposals for an additional 30 days because of the new material.