Learning Objectives: Describe tobacco industry plans to use biotechnology to produce low-nicotine cigarettes.
PROBLEM/OBJECTIVE: Biotechnology has revolutionized research in the life sciences, and its practical applications have raised a multitude of political, legal, and social concerns relevant to the tobacco control community. Our objective was to investigate how the tobacco industry sees these new tools fitting into their product research and development efforts. We describe the genetic research programs they have invested in and why.
METHODS: As an outcome of the Master Settlement Agreement, millions of pages of internal tobacco industry documents are publicly available and accessible on a web site sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation. We searched the electronic database and identified documents from the late 1980s to the late 1990s describing strategies for managing and utilizing biotechnology to meet industry and consumer needs. We analyzed the documents to identify and define key issues related to the use of biotechnology to modify tobacco leaf.
RESULTS: The tobacco industry, particularly Philip Morris, has explored the development of a low-nicotine cigarette using tobacco leaf that has been genetically engineered. Philip Morris contracted with an agricultural biotechnology company to conduct genetic research on an enzyme necessary for the biological synthesis of nicotine in tobacco plants. Furthermore, they began the process of patenting “transgenic tobacco plants with altered nicotine content.” Philip Morris pursued the development of a low-nicotine cigarette aware that it was likely to be “perceived” as healthier although it is not.
DISCUSSION: Tobacco research programs such as these raise questions about the continued pursuit of a less-harmful cigarette and implications for smoking cessation.
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