The level of nicotine found in U.S. cigarettes has risen about 10 percent in the past six years, making it harder to quit and easier to get hooked, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Department of Health.
The study shows a steady climb in the amount of nicotine delivered to the lungs of smokers regardless of brand, with overall nicotine yields increasing by about 10 percent.
Massachusetts is one of three U.S. states to require tobacco companies to submit information about nicotine and the only state with data going back to 1998.
Public Health Commissioner Paul Cote Jr. called the findings "significant" and said the report was the first new release on nicotine yield in more than six years nationally.
The study found the three most popular cigarette brands with young smokers — Marlboro, Newport and Camel — delivered significantly more nicotine than they did years ago. Nicotine in Kool, a popular menthol brand, rose 20 percent. More than two-thirds of black smokers use menthol brands.
Calls to Philip Morris USA, the United States' largest cigarette maker and manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., manufacturer of Kool and Camel cigarettes, were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The study tried to measure nicotine levels based on the way smokers actually use cigarettes, health officials said, in part by partially covering ventilation holes as they smoke and taking longer puffs. Traditional testing methods which do not take real-life smoking habits into account, typically report lower nicotine contents, officials said.
Of the 179 cigarette brands tested in 2004 for the report, 93 percent fell into the highest range for nicotine. In 1998, 84 percent of 116 brands tested fell into the highest range.
Smokers who choose "light" brands hoping to reduce their nicotine intake are out of luck, according to the report that found for all brands tested in 1998 and 2004, there was no significant difference in the total nicotine content between "full flavor," "medium," "light," or "ultra-light" cigarettes.
The finding means that health care providers trying to help smokers quit may have to adjust the strength of nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches and gums, according to Department of Public Health Associate Commissioner Sally Fogerty.