Tobacco industry documents, including some released in recent weeks, strongly suggest that one of the nation's largest cigarette producers, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., altered nicotine delivery to smokers, apparently believing that doing so would increase the "kick" of its popular Winston brand and make it more competitive.
All cigarette manufacturers, including R.J. Reynolds, have denied that they manipulate or control levels of nicotine, the substance in cigarettes that addicts smokers. And some of the techniques used by R.J. Reynolds, such as the addition of ammonia-containing compounds, have also been employed by producers such as Philip Morris Cos.But the latest R.J. Reynolds records, when added to previously disclosed documents, offer the most vivid case study yet of how one producer apparently decided in the 1970s to enhance nicotine delivery in an effort to make a brand more competitive. The documents show that R.J. Reynolds researchers noticed that Philip Morris had a higher level of so-called free nicotine in its popular Marlboro brand. Soon after, the R.J. Reynolds researchers set out with the apparent intention of matching that quality in the company's Winston product.
The question of whether cigarettemakers deliberately manipulated nicotine is a central focus of the Justice Department's criminal investigation into possible fraud by tobacco producers.
Of particular interest to Justice Department officials is whether producers used various techniques to alter nicotine availability even while nicotine levels as measured by government cigarette tests were falling, said two people questioned by investigators.
On Friday, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds said that nicotine levels were not a "design characteristic" in developing cigarettes. "In fact, our research through the years has focused on reducing total `tar' and nicotine yield," he said.
The fruit of R.J. Reynold's internal efforts apparently came in 1980 when the company introduced a reformulation of its Winston line referred to in company documents as Winston "B." A memo written that year by Alan Rodgman, then the company's director of basic research, said the Winston "B" had caught up with Marlboro in such key areas as smoke pH and "free" nicotine.