How Big Tobacco Has Made Cigarettes So Much Deadlier Than They Used To Be

“The cigarettes sold today are quite different from the cigarettes that were on the market five decades ago, according to the new report, and that’s because tobacco companies have done extensive research to figure out how to make smoking appealing for new customers. “



In this Saturday, March 2, 2013 file photo, a woman smokes a cigarette while sitting in her truck in Hayneville, Ala. Anti-smoking measures have saved roughly 8 million U.S. lives since a landmark 1964 report linking smoking and disease, a study estimates, yet the nation's top disease detective says dozens of other countries have surpassed U.S. efforts to stop many tobacco-related harms. The study and comments were published online Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This week’s journal commemorates the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general report credited with raising alarms about the dangers of smoking. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

(AP/Dave Martin)

Fifty years ago, the U.S. surgeon general tied tobacco to lung cancer for the first time. Since then, additional scientific research has linked smoking with a host of other health issues, and efforts to publicize those harmful side effects helped spur a historic decline in the number of Americans who regularly smoke. Nonetheless, more than 42 million adults remain addicted to cigarettes, and the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that tobacco is still the greatest public health challenge of our time.

Why is tobacco still at the top of the CDC’s list? Why haven’t we moved past this yet? Largely because cigarette manufacturers have worked hard to keep their products relevant even in the midst of aggressive public health campaigns to crack down on smoking, according to a new report released on Monday by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The cigarettes sold today are quite different from the cigarettes that were on the market five decades ago, according to the new report, and that’s because tobacco companies have done extensive research to figure out how to make smoking appealing for new customers. They’ve essentially made it easier to get hooked on their products by increasing the levels of nicotine — the addictive chemical in cigarettes — and using new additives to help enhance nicotine’s impact. They’ve also added flavoring, sugars, and menthol to mask the effect of inhaling smoke, ultimately hoping that will make it more pleasurable to use cigarettes:


Cigarettes have evolved over the past 50 years to make smoking more desirable


“Most people would think that 50 years after we learned that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, cigarettes would be safer. What’s shocking about the report we issued today is that we’ve found that a smoker today has more than twice the risk of lung cancer than a smoker fifty years ago, as a direct result of design changes made by the industry,” Matt Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in an interview with ThinkProgress.

On top of that, Myers’ organization notes that these corporations have made calculated moves to create the next generation of smokers, according to internal marketing documents from tobacco companies that have been made public as a result of litigation against them. Brands like Marlboro, Newport, and Camel have specifically worked to attract younger customers in order to remain viable, citing statistics that most regular smokers pick up the habit before they turn 18.

Most people know that cigarette makers have historically worked to target young people with their advertising. Indeed, before increased regulation attempted to rein in this practice, it used to be even more explicit than it is now. For instance, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company infamously used the cartoon character Joe Camel to help sell their cigarettes in the 1990s, a practice that mobilized anti-tobacco advocates to fight hard against marketing aimed at younger Americans.

But the new report finds that tobacco companies have actually gone even further to woo teens. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company didn’t just rely on its camel; it also looked to change its cigarettes to appeal to a younger demographic. “Two key areas identified for improvement were smoothness and sweetness delivery. Smoothness is an identified opportunity area for improvement versus Marlboro, and sweetness can impart a different delivery taste dimension which younger adult smokers may be receptive to,” a 1985 product development plan for the company noted.

“We would have thought, with the tobacco industry claiming they don’t market to kids, that they wouldn’t be making design changes that increase the number of our kids who smoke,” Myers said. “But they have, quietly and behind the scenes.”

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ report was released to coincide with the five year anniversary of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, historic legislation that gave the FDA power to regulate tobacco products and marketing efforts. At the time, that measure was hailed as the “toughest anti-tobacco bill in American history” — and Myers’ group wants the government to use it to undo some of the changes that have been made to cigarettes over the past several decades.

“At a very minimum, the FDA should act swiftly to require the tobacco industry to reverse all the steps they’ve taken to make these products more dangerous, more addictive, and more appealing to our kids,” Myers said. “I think this report tells us that the tobacco industry has not reformed over the last 50 years.”

Minnesota, Leech Lake Band square off over cigarette tax

Leech Lake Reservation is in a dispute with the state over taxation fairness and sovereignty.

By Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune

The state of Minnesota and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe are locked in a dispute over cigarettes and sovereignty.

Agents from the Minnesota Department of Revenue intercepted a delivery truck in St. Cloud on Good Friday, April 18. The truck, bound for a tribal gas station in Walker, was loaded with 281 cartons — 2,810 packs of cigarettes — that had been rolled at a Winnebago tribal facility in Nebraska and shipped to Minnesota unstamped and free of the state’s hefty cigarette tax. If they’d made it to their destination, they would have sold for $3.50 a pack — compared to the $6 to $9 smokers were paying everywhere else in the state.

For the state Revenue Department, the seizure was an issue of tax fairness. For Leech Lake’s leadership, it was a violation of tribal sovereignty. The result is a standoff, with millions of dollars in state tax revenue at stake.

In a statement, Leech Lake dubbed the incident “the Good Friday Seizure,” calling it “yet another attack on Native American rights. The Band sees this seizure as an attempt by the state to implement its unfair taxation plan on the lands of the Leech Lake Reservation, this time resulting in the unfortunate economic isolation of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe.”

The Department of Revenue, in turn, has cut off the taps — withholding the state tax equity revenue it normally splits with the tribe for its sale of other state-taxed items like sales, gas and alcohol — until the band agrees to start selling state-taxed cigarettes again.

Losing that shared tax revenue could cost Leech Lake $2 million or more a year, said Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans.

“We just want to make sure cigarette prices are uniform and fair,” he said Friday. “Leech Lake is the only tribe now that insists on selling non-state-stamped cigarettes, and that’s a considerable price differential. It’s really unfair, and it’s a terrible health outcome, as well.”

Ten of the state’s 11 tribes have agreed to sell only state-taxed cigarettes, and Frans said his department has worked with Leech Lake for years to try to reach a similar deal.

“We respect the sovereignty of all the tribes and we take their sovereignty very seriously,” he said.

Leech Lake Chairwoman Carri Jones could not be reached for comment Friday, but in a statement she said the tribe tried to work with the state.

“Every time the Minnesota Department of Revenue requested a meeting on this issue, we came to the table to meet in good faith to offer innovative and creative solutions, which were consistently turned down by the state,” she said in the statement. “We were hoping that by engaging in good faith negotiations we would avoid the drastic measure that Gov. Dayton’s administration took on Easter weekend.”

Minnesota has the sixth-highest state tobacco tax rate in the nation — $2.83 per pack, including a $1.60 increase that went into effect last year.

A familiar fight

But the tribal tax dispute goes back earlier, to 2005, when Minnesota levied a 75-cent-per-pack “health impact fee” on cigarettes. Because it was a fee and not a tax, the state argued that it did not need to split the new revenue with the tribes, as it does with other state taxes.

The decision sparked a dispute that led several tribes to start selling untaxed, out-of-state cigarettes, including Leech Lake. The fee was replaced with an excise tax last year, Frans said.

While other tribes made agreements with the state, Leech Lake held out, selling out-of-state cigarettes with tribal taxes and funneling the money back into the community.

“The majority of revenue generated through tribal taxation is recirculated into funding tribal programs like health and wellness and small business lending,” the band said in its statement. “It provides alternative means for deriving income during difficult economic times.”

Transporting untaxed cigarettes into Minnesota is a violation of state law, subject to stiff fines. The state has already gone after Leech Lake’s supplier. Frans said the trucking company has agreed to stop shipping untaxed cigarettes to the tribe.