Big Tobacco & Ammonia Technology

Ammonia technology enables makers to produce a strengthened cigarette, aimed at increasing dependence on the product and deceiving consumers.

“Without telling anyone, tobacco companies have been free-basing nicotine and engineering subtle changes to the brain chemistry of the smoker. The idea of taking an addictive product and making it more addictive is extremely disturbing. It is basically a further invasion of the freedom not to smoke, if you don’t want to.”

Clive Bates, Director of Action on Smoking and Health

The development of “Crack nicotine”

Anual sales billions 1955-1975“Free-base” nicotine, or “Crack nicotine,” is a particularly potent form of the naturally-occurring tobacco drug because it is in an extremely volatile, uncombined form. This means it can be much more rapidly absorbed by the lungs and brain, leading to stronger addiction. This type of reinforced nicotine allows cigarettes to record, when measured with the most up-to-date equipment, the nicotine values declared on the pack, which however, do not reflect the real habit forming potential of the cigarette.

Free nicotine smoke mg/cigarettesIn the early sixties Philip Morris was the smallest of America’s six leading cigarette makers; RJR‘s brand Winston had annual sales nearly three times the size of Marlboro’s. By 1978 a seismic shift had occurred, Marlboro was the world’s best-selling cigarette, accounting for one in five of all cigarettes sold, and over fifty percent of smokers aged 17 and below smoked them.

Not surprisingly this dramatic growth in Marlboro cigarettes instigated frenzied research by other tobacco manufacturers. Through analysis and reverse engineering of Marlboro cigarettes, industry competitors came to the conclusion that “ammonia technology” was essentially the “soul” of Marlboro. And that is how the producers adapted to the new technology.

AlcalinityAt the same time “Crack nicotine,” or Free-base nicotine and the lack of adequate controls, has become a public topic of debate, the object of countless battles in the United States. This stands out dramatically against the practically total silence in the European Union and in Italy. Nonetheless, Big Tobacco continues to commit their crimes with impunity, because today inspections are still absent.

Enhancing impact

Free-basing nicotine

The success of Philip Morris’s Marlboro brand stems from greater “free” nicotine resulting from higher alkalinity (pH) induced by the addition of ammonia technology.

“Ammonia can speed the delivery of free or unbound nicotine to smokers by raising the pH (alkalinity) of tobacco smoke using additives. This causes the smoker to “freebase” the drug — much as a crack-user takes cocaine.” Dr. Jack E Henningfield of the John Hopkins University School of Medicine explains the action of ammonia thus:

“A third thing that ammonia-like compounds can do is increase the pH, increase the amount of free base nicotine, or what Dr Rickert earlier referred to as unprotonated nicotine… The free-based form of cocaine or the free based form of nicotine is more rapidly absorbed, has a more explosive effect on the nervous system. ammonia is one of the ways that you can provide free-based cocaine or free-based nicotine.” – 1997

Nicotine in different form

Many documents explain the tobacco companies’ recognition that nicotine is available in different forms.

“Nicotine may be presented to the smoker in at least three forms: (I) salt form in the particulate phase, (ii) free base form in the particulate phase, (iii) free base form in the vapour phase. It has long been believed that nicotine presented as in (ii)/(iii) is considerably more ‘activè.” – BAT, 1984

“Nicotine is in the smoke in two forms as free nicotine base (think of ammonia) and as a nicotine salt (think of ammonium chloride) and it is almost certain that the free nicotine base is absorbed faster into the blood-stream.” – BAT, 1964

More free nicotine means higher “Impact”

Once the relationship between pH, free nicotine and nicotine ‘impact’ was established, it became a research objective.

“The purpose of this project is to develop a method for increasing the smoke pH of a cigarette. A low smoke solids, low nicotine cigarette with an increased smoke pH would then have relatively more free nicotine in its smoke, and consequently, a higher nicotine impact.” – Liggett, 1974

Changing the chemical form of nicotine increases the ‘Kick’

In a paper entitled “Cigarette concept to assure RJR a larger segment of the youth market” – RJ Reynolds talk about the “Kick” of nicotine:

“Still with an old style filter, any desired additional nicotine kick could be easily obtained through pH regulation.” – RJR, 1973

“The pH also relates to the immediacy of the nicotine impact. As the pH increases, the nicotine changes its chemical form so that it is more rapidly absorbed by the body and more quickly gives a kick to the smoker.” – RJR, 1976

“When a cigarette is smoked, nicotine is released momentarily in the free-form. In this form, nicotine is more readily absorbed through the body tissue. Hence it is the free nicotine which is associated with IMPACT, i.e. The higher the free nicotine, the higher the IMPACT.” – BAT, 1988

Making nicotine more potent

“Increasing the pH of a medium in which nicotine is delivered increases the physiological effect of the nicotine by increasing the ratio of free base to acid salt form, the free base form being more readily transported across physiological membranes. We are pursuing this project with the eventual goal of lowering the total nicotine present in smoke while increasing the physiological effect of the nicotine which is present, so that no physiological effect is lost on nicotine reduction.” – Liggett, 1971

Free nicotine fraction increases ‘physiological strength

“Since the unbound nicotine is very much more active physiologically and much faster acting than the bound nicotine, the smoke at a high pH seems to be strong nicotine. Therefore, the amount of free nicotine in the smoke may be used for at least a partial measure of the physiological strength of the cigarette.” – RJR, 1973

Nicotine transfer increased as a result of ammonia treatment

According to BAT, the addition of ammonia was a technical option to enhance nicotine transfer:

“The results show that ammonia treatment caused a general increase in the delivery of bases including a 29% increase in nicotine. This result, despite the decrease in nicotine content and a 10% drop in the weight of tobacco burnt in puffing, is only partly due to a small decrease in nicotine filtration. In other words, the nicotine transfer has increased as a result of ammonia treatment…” – BAT, 1965

Additives to increase nicotine “Kick”

Ammonia can be used to increase the alkalinity of smoke and increase the amount of nicotine in the free form rather than in the bound form of nicotine salts. RJ Reynolds explains:

“In essence, a cigarette is a system for delivery of nicotine to the smoker in attractive, useful form. At normal smoke pH, at or below about 6.0, essentially all of the smoke nicotine is chemically combined with acidic substance hence is non-volatile and relatively slowly absorbed by the smoker. As the smoke pH increases above about 6.0, an increasing proportion of the total smoke nicotine occurs in free form, which is volatile, rapidly absorbed by the smoker, and believed to be instantly perceived as nicotine kick.” – RJR, 1973

Concealing The Nicotine by Increasing The Vapour Phase

How Big Tobacco messes your government up

Ammonia helps cheat the federal test for levels of tar and nicotine. The exploitation of ‘freè nicotine and its enhanced effects helped cigarette companies cheat the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) machine measurements of tar and nicotine levels.

Using additive technology they were able to build cigarettes which registered low tar readings on the machine but delivered high levels of nicotine to the smoker.

“If the desired goal is defined to be increased nicotine yield in the delivered smoke there appear to be only two alternatives: either increase the absolute yield of delivered nicotine, or increase the pH, which increases the ‘apparent’ nicotine content without changing the absolute amount.” – Lorillard, 1976

Concealing nicotine in the gas phase

The FTC machine measures overall levels of liquid and solid nicotine, but not its concentration in the vapour phase where free nicotine is found.

Additives allowed reduced tar and nicotine without compromising the pharmacological effects — legally required disclosure of tar and nicotine levels on billboards and cigarette packets showed a significant reduction while smokers were still being exposed to high levels of an addictive drug.

Changes in the state of nicotine from liquid or solid to gas would have the effect of evading the standard measuring process which records the residues left on the filter in the standard smoking machine.

The perfect example of that is that if you don’t take into account the gas phase, if I do something like increase the pH and the smoke drops so that I can put more of the nicotine from the liquid into the gas and I am not measuring the gas, then in fact, you don’t measure that nicotine which gets in the gas phase. This has been known since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. – Farone, W.A. 06/12/97

Business as usual while appearing to reduce nicotine

The increase in the free nicotine fraction—a qualitative change in the chemical form of nicotine—means that the same ‘hit’ can be obtained from less nicotine.

Put another way, there can be the appearance of a reduction in pharmacological impact without there being a real reduction.

“The amount of nicotine in the vapour phase can be modified by changing the acidity (pH) of the smoke. Hence it is readily feasible to have two cigarettes which deliver the same amount of nicotine (as measured on a Cambridge pad – the FTC method) but which are easily differentiated on the sensory basis of impact since the acidity of the smoke (and hence amount of nicotine in the vapour phase) is different.” – B&W, 1984

The reduction of natural ammonia in Yesmokes

On the other hand, Yesmoke cigarettes are never treated with ammonia, in fact, they undergo treatment aimed at eliminating the ammonia naturally present in tobacco.

If tobacco is treated with ammonia gas, ammonium bi-carbonate, ammonium carbonate or ammonium hydroxide, the ammonia gas or ammonium ion will react with the nicotine salts to release “Free nicotine,” or “Crack nicotine.”

Yesmoke production, however, heads in the opposite direction: the Burley tobacco in “Yesmoke cigarettes is toasted at a temperature of 132° and umidity at 6%, for a period of 10 minutes. This process frees ammonia and gives a cigarette with a minimum level of natural ammonia, which is as low as it is possible to reach.

Reducing the ammonia content, naturally present in Burley tobacco, makes the product, though still harmful for the health, in theory, less addictive.

Big Tobacco about Big Tobacco

The myth is that Marlboro man made the Marlboro cigarette. The square jawed icon of American individualism lassoed a gullible public and herded them into the Marlboro corral. On the face of it Marlboro’s success appears to be a tribute to the power of advertising and iconography. However, the chemical history of the brand sheds interesting light on the subject.

“Philip Morris began using an ammoniated sheet material in 1965 and increased use of the sheet periodically from 1965 to 1974. This time period corresponds to the dramatic sales increase Philip Morris made from 1965 to 1974.” – RJR 1992, Minn Trial exhibit 13141

Ammonia technology is the key to Marlboro

“Looking at all of the technology employed in Marlboro on a world-wide basis, ammonia technology remains the key factor.” – B&W, 1992, Minn Trial Exhibit 10001

Brands that are selling well have high levels of free nicotine

“The higher pH of Marlboro cigarettes helped to maintain the same level of free nicotine as high-tar cigarettes despite a two third reduction in overall tar and nicotine – and helped develop a US standard taste, enhancing the iconography associated with the quintessentially American Marlboro Man.” – B&W, 1992, Minn Trial Exibit 10011

“If our data, correlations and conclusions are valid, then what has emerged is a rather new type of cigarette, represented by Marlboro and Kool, with high nicotine ‘kick’, burley flavour, mildness to the mouth, and increased sensation to the throat, all largely the result of higher smoke pH. There is evidence that other brands, which are selling well also, have some of these attributes, particularly increased fre nicotine impact.” – RJR, 1973, Minn Trial Exhibit 1315

“It appears that we have sufficient expertise available to ‘build’ a lowered mg tar cigarette which will deliver as much free nicotine as a Marlboro, Winston or Kent without increasing the total nicotine delivery above that of a Light product. There are products already being marketed which deliver high percentage free nicotine levels in smoke, i.e. Merit, Now.” – B&W, 1980, Minn Trial Exhibit 13182

“It would appear that the increased smoker response is associated with nicotine reaching the brain more quickly… On this basis, it appears reasonable to assume that the increased response of a smoker to the smoke with a higher amount of extractable nicotine (not synonymous with but similar to free base nicotine) may be either because this nicotine reaches the brain in a different chemical form or because it reaches the brain more quickly.” – BAT, 1966, Minn Trial Exhibit 17825

Competitors understood the link between Marlboro’s sales and its alkalinity

“The smoke pH for Kool and Marlboro are 7.12 and 6.98 respectively confirming the relationship between high smoke pH and cigarette sales increase.” – Lorillard, 1973, Minn trial exhibit 10095

“As a result of its higher smoke pH, the current Marlboro, despite a two thirds reduction in smoke tar and nicotine over the years, calculates to have essentially the same amount of “free” nicotine in its smoke as did the early Winston.” – Lorillard, 1973. Minn trial exhibit 13155

“Our data show that smoke from our brands, and all other significant competitive brands, in recent years has been consistently and significantly lower in pH (less alkaline) than in smoke from Marlboro and to a lesser degree Kool… All evidence indicates that the relatively high smoke pH (high alkalinity) shown by Marlboro (and other Philip Morris brands) and Kool is deliberate and controlled. This has raised questions as to: (1) the effect of higher pH on nicotine impact and smoke quality, hence market performance, and (2) how the higher smoke pH might be accomplished.” – RJR, 1973

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