An Oregon scientist has found that the ammonia added to commercially-made cigarettes can boost the impact of nicotine 100-fold.
The study, by Dr. James F. Pankow of the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology in Portland, appears in the August issue of the journal, Environmental Science & Technology.
“It’s been hypothesized and discussed quite a bit,” Pankow said. “Tobacco companies use ammonia to increase the ‘impact’ of nicotine and also ‘satisfaction’ of nicotine.
“No one up to now has measured the actual magnitude of the availability.”
It’s called “freebasing,” and it’s the same kind of chemical process used by hard-core cocaine addicts.
Like cocaine, nicotine exists in two forms - acid and base. When ammonia is added, the nicotine is converted from acid to base form.
The base form of nicotine is considered to be much more readily available to the body.
Tobacco industry representatives three years ago released a list of 599 substances companies add to tobacco products. One of those was ammonia.
The document described ammonia as a naturally occurring substance that dissolves in water and aids in metabolizing protein. It said nothing of the effect of boosting nicotine.
However, an internal “leaf blender’s manual” used by a major tobacco company, specifically refers to ammonia as an “impact booster.”
The federal Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the proposed $368.5 billion settlement between the tobacco industry and the states.
The research “is an important reminder to the public that there is manipulation and control of nicotine in cigarettes,” said Mitch Zeller, associate commissioner to the FDA. “And this is one of the ways that tobacco companies do it.”
The research is significant in that it was peer-reviewed and conducted outside the tobacco industry, Zeller said Tuesday.
“I think the finding reinforces the need for the FDA to have full authority over all ingredients in tobacco products, especially nicotine and ammonia,” said Dr. Ron Davis, a leading researcher into the health risks of tobacco at Detroitbased Henry Ford Health System.
“Regulating nicotine levels may not prevent tobacco companies from manipulating additives that determine how addicting even a small amount can be,” said Jack Heningfield, formerly with the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
“Dr. Pankow’s data justifies a conclusion that we need to look at other factors than just controlling nicotine.”
The Tobacco Institute, a tobacco industry lobbying group in Washington, D.C., did not return calls Tuesday.
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