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Tobacco Firm Charged with Suppressing Nicotine Study

By William J. Eaton
Los Angeles Times

In another blow to the tobacco industry, congressional investigators charged Thursday that the United States' largest tobacco company suppressed its own study in 1983 suggesting that nicotine was addictive.

The research by a Philip Morris Co. scientist was concluded five years before the nation's Attorney General declared nicotine addictive, said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., a leading critic of cigarette manufacturers and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and the environment, who released copies of the 1983 study.

The congressman also said the chief executives of seven major tobacco companies are being asked to testify before Congress on whether they adjust nicotine levels in cigarettes to keep smokers hooked.

"The nation's largest tobacco company has had relevant information for years about the important role nicotine plays in preventing smokers from quitting," Waxman said at a news conference. "Despite this information, the tobacco industry has denied that nicotine is addictive."

Philip Morris issued a statement Thursday denying that its research found nicotine was addictive and that the company had suppressed the results.

The study, by Dr. Victor J. De Noble, described how laboratory rats had responded positively to intravenous infusions of nicotine in amounts similar to those a smoker would obtain from a cigarette. Waxman said the existence of the study was disclosed at a hearing of his subcommittee last Friday by Dr. David Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

The day's events were the latest setback for an industry that once avoided close government scrutiny and was considered politically untouchable in Congress.

Only last week, the Clinton administration unveiled plans for a sweeping anti-smoking rule that would ban virtually all indoor smoking wherever people work, ranging from restaurants and bars to offices and factories.

In February, ABC News reported that cigarette manufacturers artificially enhance the nicotine level in their product to keep profits high. Philip Morris has denied the allegations and filed a $10 billion lawsuit against the network.

De Noble's 1983 study was carried out in Philip Morris' own laboratories in Richmond, Va. The findings had been submitted to a scientific journal, Psychopharmacology, following review by other scientists. Before it was published, however, De Noble inexplicably withdrew them.

In 1986, after he left Philip Morris, De Noble submitted another research manuscript, based partly on his work at the Richmond laboratory, to the same journal. It also was withdrawn before publication, however.

Waxman released a letter written to De Noble by Dr. Herbert Barry of the University of Pittsburgh pharmacy school, which implied that Philip Morris had interceded to prevent publication of the study.

The tobacco industry has argued that nicotine is not addictive, disputing findings to the contrary by the Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.

In its statement, Philip Morris said: "At no time did Philip Morris seek an injunction, legal or otherwise, against the publication of any of Dr. De Noble's research. As with virtually all industries, publication of research done while an employee must be reviewed and approved prior to such publication. We are aware of one instance when Dr. De Noble failed to go through the Philip Morris manuscript review process and thus was told not to publish Philip Morris research until completing the process."

The company also said De Noble's research has not been withheld from the scientific community or the public, adding: "We find dozens of publications authored by him, including five based on his nicotine-related research conducted while at Philip Morris."

But Scott D. Ballin, a spokesman for the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, said the 1983 study was an indictment of cigarette manufacturers.

"The information released today drives another nail in the coffin of the tobacco industry's master plan to keep smokers addicted, to mislead the American public about the dangers of smoking and to keep them in the dark about what is really in a cigarette," Ballin said in a statement.