The nicotine in cigarettes is habit-forming but is not the sole cause of addiction, a tobacco company executive argued during testimony on Tuesday in the government’s $280 billion suit against cigarette makers.
“At this point (company executives) are not prepared to say it is the only thing that makes it addictive,” said Steven Parrish, senior vice president of corporate affairs of Altria Group Inc., parent of Philip Morris USA.U.S. public health officials concluded decades ago that smoking leads to lung cancer and other serious diseases, and a 1998 U.S. Surgeon General report found nicotine caused cigarette addiction.Altria and some other tobacco companies now concede the health impact. But Parrish argued that while Philip Morris officials believed nicotine is a drug, they do not agree that it is “the” cause of addiction.The government’s suit, filed in 1999, targets Altria and its Philip Morris unit; Loews’ Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group ; Vector Group Ltd.’s Liggett Group; Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and British American Tobacco Plc unit British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.The Justice Department wants the industry to give up $280 billion in past profits and is seeking tougher rules on marketing, advertising and warnings on tobacco products.Tobacco companies deny they conspired to promote smoking and say the government has no grounds to pursue them after they drastically changed marketing practices as part of a 1998 settlement with state attorneys general.Justice Department lawyer Greg Schwind handed Parrish a package of Marlboro cigarettes and asked why the company included other information not required by law — including “Please don’t litter” and “Uses select fine tobacco” — but would not voluntarily warn consumers about nicotine addiction.Not warning about addiction “deliberately deprives smokers of material information,” Schwind said. He asked Parrish why the company’s Web site also does not mention the effect of nicotine.The site, www.philipmorrisusa.com, states the company agrees smoking is addictive and adds, “It can be very difficult to quit smoking, but this should not deter smokers who want to quit from trying to do so.”Parrish said the company’s site linked to others, including the Surgeon General’s site, where consumers could get nicotine facts.The government also charged that Altria and Philip Morris USA had changed its policy on addiction six times in 6 years. Parrish defended the changes and said progress had been made. (Source: Reuters Health, January 2005)