- ENGLAND (AP) -- Inside the restricted laboratory compound on the south
coast of England, five senior scientists for B.A.T. Industries, the world's
second-biggest cigarette maker, were devising ways to make it harder for
people to quit smoking.
- At the start of the "Brainstorming"
session on April 11, 1980, Robin A. Crellin, the team research leader,
offered an insight. "B.A.T. should learn to look at itself as a drug
company," he said, "rather than a tobacco company."
- Just eight months earlier, B.A.T. scientists
had laid out some basic assumptions about cigarettes. An Aug. 28, 1979,
- "We are searching explicitly for
a socially acceptable addictive product involving: A pattern of repeated
consumption; a product which is likely to involve repeated handling; the
essential constituent is most likely to be nicotine or a 'direct' substitute
- Public disclosure of once-secret industry
documents has shown that Big Tobacco privately considered tobacco addictive
and harmful at least four decades ago, even as it brushed aside claims
that it manipulated nicotine in cigarettes to hook smokers.
- Now, a review by The Associated Press
of thousands of B.A.T. documents -- some stamped "CONFIDENTIAL,"
"SECRET," and "S-H-R-E-D" -- offers new insight into
the scale and sophistication of efforts to keep millions of users hooked
on nicotine, and the motives driving a project that created a more addictive
- Taking the reader inside the once-impregnable
industry, the papers disclose:
- Why B.A.T. lost its position as the world's
No. 1 cigarette maker to Philip Morris and its Marlboro brand in the 1960s
(short answer: a nicotine breakthrough). Why B.A.T. and its affiliates
spent 17 years and tens of millions of dollars to create a new, nicotine-rich,
harder-to-kick tobacco (to outdo Marlboro's nicotine technology and to
produce more nicotine at lower cost). How vital it was to the industry
to forestall broader government regulation of tobacco products so vital
that B.A.T.'s scientific and marketing efforts eclipsed reports by company
researchers on the health dangers of nicotine.
- B.A.T., formerly British American Tobacco,
did finally develop its super-tobacco, a genetically altered variety with
the code name Y-1.
- This high-nicotine tobacco is used today
by Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., B.A.T.'s American subsidiary and
the third largest U.S. cigarette maker. Y-1 is in nine brands sold in the
United States: Prime, Summit, Raleigh King Size, Raleigh 100s, Pall Mall
Plain King Size, Lucky Strike Plains, Raleigh XLP, Private Stock and Richland.
- B.A.T. declined to comment on the documents,
collected for Minnesota's recently settled lawsuit against cigarette makers.
The British conglomerate referred questions to Brown & Williamson.
- Sharon Boyse, director of scientific
communications at Brown & Williamson, said many of the research reports
represented pure science with "no application in a commercial sense."
- After being read passages from several
documents, Boyse remarked: "A lot of these studies are experimental
-- to try to understand the underlying process of smoke chemistry -- and
may not necessarily turn into products."
- However, the 5,000 pages of memos, letters
and reports -- pulled by the AP from among 7 million B.A.T. documents made
public at the Minneapolis tobacco document repository -- show that Y-1
tobacco became more than a theory.
- The papers outline Y-1's creation, detailing
not only the nuts-and-bolts science but the breezy chat at gatherings of
researchers in locales such as Rio de Janeiro and Sydney, and the private
strategy sessions of B.A.T.'s highest executives in London.
- These are the Y-1 papers, and this is
the story they tell.
- The wording was as dry as a warning label
on a cigarette pack.
- But the conclusion of B.A.T. nicotine
report No. RD-437-R became the basis for research that led to the invention
of Y-1 tobacco.
- It read: "Increased smoker response
is associated with nicotine reaching the brain more quickly."
- It meant: The faster nicotine reaches
a smoker's brain, the bigger the drug rush -- and the more likely the smoker
will come back for more.
- J.D. Backhurst, who delivered the report
on Sept. 30, 1966, at B.A.T.'s laboratory in Southampton, England, had
confirmed that nicotine exists in two chemical forms -- not one, as had
been generally assumed.
- The first is the "bound" form,
which the body has trouble absorbing. The other is the "free"
form, which passes instantly through the mouth, throat and lungs and into
the bloodstream. Free nicotine reaches the brain faster, and, Backhurst
demonstrated, gives the smoker a more addicting "kick."
- If B.A.T. wanted to make it tougher for
people to give up its cigarettes, perhaps all the company needed to do
was increase the free nicotine in them.
- Philip Morris, B.A.T.'s competitor, already
had discovered that by adding ammonia to its cigarettes, it could increase
the ratio of free nicotine, and consequently the popularity of its Marlboro
brand. In a few years, sales of Marlboro, with ammonia added, propelled
Philip Morris past B.A.T. to become the world's No. 1 cigarette manufacturer.
- B.A.T. would research and use ammonia
technology, too. To this day, it says ammonia was added to increase flavor.
But the Y-1 papers show the company didn't want to just follow Philip Morris'
innovations -- B.A.T. wanted to go one up on its rival.
- To do that, it needed to know more about
- So B.A.T.'s scientists experimented with
mice, squirrel monkeys, beagles and mechanical mouths. They stuck electrodes
on adult smokers and measured changes in their brain waves and heart rate.
- They swapped findings at conferences
held wherever B.A.T. had overseas subsidiaries: Germany, Italy, Australia,
Canada, Brazil and the United States.
- The objective was to "make the administration
of nicotine better," wrote S.J. Green in a March 2, 1967, memo. That
meant "making the administration pleasanter or more convenient"
with fewer "undesirable physiological side effects."
- The Y-1 papers show B.A.T. scientists
already had learned that nicotine -- not just tar, as had been thought
-- did bad things to people's arteries, hearts and brains.
- "Certain medical studies would seek
to blame nicotine for cardiovascular disease," Dr. D.J. Wood, a senior
B.A.T. scientist, wrote for a nicotine presentation to B.A.T. executives
in Chelwood, England, in September 1969.
- Most of the studies were B.A.T.'s own.
Later B.A.T. research turned up something even uglier -- that nicotine
might contribute to cancer.
- Notes from a Feb. 5, 1979, research conference
in England read: "In the B14 experiment using three levels of nicotine
citrate, the high nicotine is more tumorigenic (tumor-creating) and possibly
- Nine years later, an abstract of another
B.A.T. study, "Mutagenicity of Cigarettes Containing Added Nicotine,"
suggested a link between nicotine and carcinogens in tobacco smoke.
- Independent studies have since confirmed
the danger. Although nicotine is not a carcinogen in its own right, other
chemicals in burned tobacco convert some nicotine into a carcinogen, said
Jack Henningfield, an addiction specialist at the Johns Hopkins Medical
- For B.A.T., this raised a worrisome question:
What if governments ordered cigarette makers to reduce nicotine in their
- Twelve scientists from five countries
met at an inn in the Florida Keys, surrounded by lagoons, palm trees and
the turquoise surf. It was a healthy setting for B.A.T.'s January 1974
conference on how to make a "safe" cigarette.
- The researchers discussed techniques
to remove carcinogens from tobacco smoke: asbestos filters; microscopic
holes in the cigarette paper to dilute the smoke; synthetic nicotine substitutes;
even a "noninhalable cigarette."
- None of these ideas ever worked. The
Y-1 papers suggest that by the late 1970s, B.A.T. had all but given up
on making a "safe" cigarette. Robert A. Sanford, then Brown &
Williamson's vice president of research, even discouraged toxicological
testing of cigarette smoke in an Aug. 18, 1980, letter to Alan Heard at
B.A.T.'s Southampton research center.
- Research into "irritation and inhalation
of smoke," he wrote, was a "dangerous area. Do not publish or
- It didn't abandon nicotine. That's why
- "If the nicotine delivery is reduced
below a threshold 'satisfaction' level, then surely smokers will question
more readily why they are indulging in an expensive habit," wrote
Green, the senior B.A.T. scientist, on March 29, 1976.
- He recommended the company divert attention
from nicotine's health risks and frame the public health debate around
the dangers of tar. "It is advocated that every opportunity is taken
to separate tar and nicotine in the minds of consumers and legislators."
- The fear that public health officials
might press for drastic reduction of nicotine was so great that some B.A.T
scientists even suggested the company diversify into other "mood-affecting"
substances: marijuana, tranquilizers and the like.
- That never happened, but during the April
11, 1980, brainstorming session at B.A.T.'s Southampton laboratory, Crellin
noted that, one day, such drugs might be "'socialized' like alcoholic
drinking and tobacco smoking."
- There was another way B.A.T. could address
its fear of nicotine regulation. It could change the form of nicotine in
- B.A.T. knew that government regulators,
when measuring nicotine deliveries in tobacco products, do not distinguish
between the highly addictive, free nicotine and the less addictive, bound
- So, if B.A.T. could chemically convert
more of the bound nicotine in its products to free nicotine, it wouldn't
need to put as much nicotine in cigarettes to keep smokers hooked. In fact,
it could promote a nicotine "reduction" while actually giving
cigarettes more nicotine kick.
- Marlboro's success proved the theory.
Philip Morris had added ammonia, causing the conversion and giving smokers
a stronger nic-kick, which drove up sales.
- B.A.T. also began using ammonia in its
products, but found only a limited amount could be used without making
the smoke "very noxious," according to an Oct. 22, 1979, Brown
& Williamson research report.
- T.R. Shori, its author, suggested that
free nicotine in cigarettes might be increased by altering the tobacco
leaf itself. A high-nicotine tobacco, he said, could cause "more nicotine
to be available to the smoker as free nicotine."
- "We could develop an ultra-low-tar
cigarette that produced considerably more impact than its delivery level
(nicotine, as measured by the government) would suggest," he wrote.
- And governments would be clueless.
- To play its shell game, B.A.T. needed
a high-nicotine tobacco. The corporate giant turned for help to a smalltime
tobacco grower, Lloyd Vernon Jones, and his 18-acre farm in Stantonsburg,
- It was the summer of 1977, and farmers
in America's Southern tobacco belt were worried. Public health advocates
were railing against tobacco; cigarette consumption in the United States
- So when a representative for Brown &
Williamson showed up at Jones' ranch house and offered to pay him handsomely
to grow some new plants rich in nicotine, the farmer obliged.
- Tobacco genetics were about to take a
quantum leap: The five "Virginia" tobacco varieties sprouting
in Jones' fields had been genetically cross-bred to produce twice the nicotine
of regular leaf.
- Two of the plant lines lived to maturity.
Brown & Williamson code-named them Y-1 and Y-2 (the latter was eventually
supplanted by Y-1). Then, in 1983, it quietly took them away.
- What happened to the tobacco once it
left the Jones farm? The Food and Drug Administration figured out part
of the story in the spring of 1994.
- The agency learned that Brown & Williamson
had taken Y-1 to DNA Plant Technology, or DNAP, a biotech company in Cinnaminson,
N.J. DNAP did more genetics work to increase Y-1's yield and disease resistance.
- The FDA also learned that Y-1 was grown
in Brazil and then used in five Brown & Williamson brands sold in the
United States. Although this was legal, the agency was concerned enough
to disclose its findings to Congress in June 1994.
- Brown & Williamson said it was only
trying to make cigarettes safer, but, concerned about bad publicity, agreed
to stop using Y-1.
- But last December, the AP reported it
had found tons of Y-1 and related high-nicotine strains being cultivated
in Brazil for the world market by Souza Cruz, B.A.T.'s Brazilian subsidiary.
In February, the AP reported Brown & Williamson had resumed the use
of high-nicotine tobaccos in American cigarettes in 1995. This time, Brown
& Williamson said it would stop using Y-1 by April 1, 1999.
- The Y-1 papers, however, show the project
was much bigger than previously known -- a global operation coordinated
by the highest executives at B.A.T. Industries' world headquarters in London.
- The "Tobacco Strategy Review Team"
sessions included Sir Patrick Sheehy, who retired as chairman in 1996;
Martin Broughton, B.A.T. Industries' present chairman; Ulrich Herter, now
the managing director of B.A.T. Industries; and, R.J. Pritchard, a former
Brown & Williamson chairman and former member of B.A.T. Industries'
board of directors. Chairmen of B.A.T.'s subsidiaries in England, Germany,
Brazil and Canada also participated in the meetings. B.A.T. declined an
AP request to interview the executives.
- Brown & Williamson ran the project,
said Boyse, though "often, B.A.T. Industries would act as a coordination
- Under pressure to outdo Philip Morris'
ammoniated Marlboro cigarettes, B.A.T. pushed its Y-1 project into high
gear in 1983.
- High-nicotine seed and pollen were assigned
code numbers and shipped from the United States to affiliates around the
world: Brazil, Canada, Germany, Honduras, Chile, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Nigeria
and Pakistan, the Y-1 papers show.
- Brown & Williamson didn't apply for
the special U.S. customs permit required to export tobacco seed and pollen,
according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- The project didn't stop with mild, Virginia
leaf. DNAP, the biotech company, also transferred nicotine-making genes
from Y-1 and Y-2 into "Burley" tobacco, the coarser leaf used
in cigar, pipe and chewing tobacco.
- The new Burley varieties packed 50 percent
to 75 percent more nicotine than the old lines, according to an April 25,
1990, DNAP memo. This high-nicotine Burley was also used in cigarettes
sold in the United States, the Y-1 papers show.
- Accounting memos show that between 1985
and 1991, Brown & Williamson grew at least 142,700 pounds of Y-1 and
additional quantities of its Burley cousins in North Carolina, Kentucky,
New Jersey and California -- ignoring a price-support agreement between
tobacco companies and the government not to grow high-nicotine tobacco
on American soil.
- In the end, southern Brazil became the
place for major production, the Y-1 papers show.
- Making Y-1 tobacco wasn't cheap: The
seed cost $2,200 a pound (B.A.T. would eventually spend a total of $4 million
producing seed). Research was costly; in 1989 alone, it totaled $9 million,
the documents show. With travel, meetings, field surveys, farm subsidies,
shipping, patent applications, taste testing, studies and other work, costs
may have climbed into the tens of millions of dollars.
- Boyse said she did not know how much
money was spent on the entire Y-1 project.
- Because Y-1's yield was lower than regular
Virginia leaf, Souza Cruz had to pay Brazilians 55 percent more for Y-1
than natural leaf, according to company correspondence.
- The documents suggest B.A.T. regarded
it as money well spent.
- "Y-1 gives 50 percent more nicotine
per acre even with 20 percent less leaf yield," read a May 14, 1990,
memo from Brown & Williamson's research department.
- By 1987, Y-1 tobaccos were shipped to
Finland, Norway, England, Germany and Switzerland, and then to France,
Malaysia and Australia, for consumer trials. There was just one problem.
- Even when blended with weaker tobaccos,
Y-1 leaf packed too sharp a nicotine "jolt."
- "Y-1 Lights products may be too
strong for lights smokers," wrote Lynn A. Walker, a Brown & Williamson
researcher, in a Sept. 17, 1990, memo.
- If B.A.T. didn't do something to spread
out Y-1's nicotine more uniformly in a puff, the project might end up a
- Then a breakthrough came, quite literally,
out of thin air.
- The technique that made Y-1 more palatable
-- and profitable -- was discovered inside B.A.T.'s Southampton laboratory
in late 1990. It's known to scientists as "the expansion process."
- This involves heating shreds of cured
tobacco with liquid carbon dioxide in a chamber. The carbon dioxide turns
to vapor and puffs the dry tobacco up like Rice Krispies.
- Cigarette makers expand tobacco to save
money by giving customers more air and less leaf. Less tobacco is supposed
to mean the smoker gets less tar and nicotine.
- Y-1 reacted differently when bulked up.
Not only did Y-1 retain its nicotine power, it released nicotine more gradually
as it burned, giving the user a smoother smoke. Sure enough, B.A.T. taste
testers liked cigarettes blended with expanded Y-1.
- The discovery pumped new life into the
- During the next three years, B.A.T. did
at least three major studies on Y-1's impact on the body. Its subsidiaries
started adding expanded Y-1 to cigarettes in 1992, and by 1994 some $18.2
million worth of Y-1 leaf had been stockpiled in Brazil and the United
States, according to a June 9, 1994, Brown & Williamson memo.
- On March 8, 1994, B.A.T. reviewed Y-1
tobacco's effects on smokers.
- Nineteen copies of report No. P-35 were
distributed to B.A.T. executives in England, Brazil, Germany and the United
States. Each page carried the warning, "Do not copy or show to unauthorized
- P.C. Bevan, the author, wrote that he
hoped his report would "assist in pointing the way towards being able
to manipulate and modify the impact" of nicotine on smokers, and proceeded
to lay out the results of two experiments -- "Project NATO" and
"Project FELT" -- in which testers had smoked cigarettes blended
with Y-1 tobacco.
- His conclusion: Y-1 leaf was special
because, unlike natural leaf, it had a lower proportion of tar to nicotine.
The sticky tar compounds -- the same ones that cause cancer -- block nicotine
from entering the bloodstream, he explained. Without all the tars, Y-1's
extra nicotine was absorbed faster.
- "Increased nicotine delivery,"
he wrote, occurred because the throat and lungs were "less protected
by the tar" from the nicotine.
- "Technically, Bevan may be correct,"
said Boyse of Brown & Williamson. But the test cigarettes referred
to in the report, she said, were nothing like the ones that went to market.
Those cigarettes, she said, would have "tasted like a cigar."
- Bill Farone, a former Philip Morris research
director, reviewed the Bevan report at the request of the AP and offered
a different interpretation.
- "B.A.T. was figuring out how to
increase the drug-rush sensation of nicotine without ammonia," he
said, countering Boyse. "What they were doing was making their cigarettes
- Thirty-seven days after Bevan's "manipulate
and modify" report, the chief executive officers of America's seven
biggest tobacco companies stood side by side and took an oath to tell the
truth to a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
- That spring morning, April 14, 1994,
the CEOs were asked, for the record, whether they believed nicotine was
- One by one, they said no. Thomas E. Sandefur,
the chief executive of Brown & Williamson, was sixth. "I believe
that nicotine is not addictive," he said.
- Sandefur, who died in 1996, was called
back to testify before the committee on June 27, 1994. "Do you manipulate
the nicotine levels of your cigarettes?" asked Rep. Tom Bliley of
- "We do not manipulate the nicotine
levels of our cigarettes," Sandefur replied. "No, sir."