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TOBACCO FIRMS CHARGED WITH FIXING NICOTINE LEVELS TO HOOK NEW USERS

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New research showing that teenagers start out with easier-to-use low-nicotine chewing tobacco and "graduate" to stronger snuff has the American Medical Association charging that tobacco companies manipulate nicotine levels to hook new users.

The association is calling for the government to regulate tobacco as a drug.The studies, reported in the Journal of Tobacco Control, document that pH levels and nicotine levels vary in different brands of tobacco. More acidic tobacco releases nicotine more slowly, scientists say.

Tobacco industry documents described in one article - by Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program Chief Gregory N. Connolly - show that weaker brands, such as Skoal Bandits or Happy Days, are marketed to first-time users who would grow dizzy or nauseated using full-strength tobacco.

Tobacco industry documents, including one in-house newsletter called "Up to Snuff," discuss a "graduation" strategy to have users moved on to higher-nicotine snuff such as Copenhagen. Unlike smoking, which is in decline, the use of chewing tobacco is on the rise among young men.

US Tobacco, the nation's top snuff seller, dismissed the studies as misleading and denied that pH levels play any role in nicotine absorption.

- Usha Lee McFarling