What Have They Been Smoking?

Cigarettes tied together with stringJeffrey Wigand became one of the most famous whistleblowers of all time after he revealed the tobacco industry's darkest secrets starting in 1994. He is the former Brown & Williamson Vice President and scientist portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 1999 movie "The Insider".

Speaking this week in New Zealand, among other topics Dr. Wigand discussed nicotine manipulation and the little-known discovery that cigarette companies add an ingredient common in floor and toilet bowl cleaners, ammonia, to cigarettes to get more nicotine to the smoker's brain faster after lighting up.

Industry documents reveal that cigarette companies add ammonia to cigarettes to freebase nicotine, which gives the smoker a faster and more intense nicotine "kick." In the mid-1970s, R.J. Reynolds (RJR) the makers of Camel and Winston brands, noticed that sales of their competitor's brands, and especially Philip Morris's flagship brand Marlboro, were suddenly skyrocketing compared to their brands. Determined to find out why RJR's brands were doing so poorly compared to the others, RJR chemically "deconstructed" Marlboro cigarettes to find out just how they were different.

Freebasing Nicotine

By 1973, their research revealed the secret. RJR found that Philip Morris had made a "deliberate and controlled" chemical change in the smoke of their cigarettes. They started altering the pH, or acid/base balance, of smoke by adding ammonia to the tobacco. This make the smoke more alkaline. In a more alkaline environment, more nicotine "...occurs in 'free' form, which is volatile, rapidly absorbed by the smoker, and believed to be instantly perceived as nicotine 'kick'," according to RJR.

Adding ammonia to achieve this chemical reaction is called "freebasing." It's the same process comedian Richard Pryor was using 1980 when he set himself on fire while trying to freebase cocaine. It's also the exact same process that turns cocaine into crack. In the tobacco industry's case, though, it's done on a vast commercial scale.

After cigarette companies discovered that freebasing nicotine led to a sharp and sustained increase in cigarette sales, it became state-of-the art cigarette technology. It's also one of the chemical adjustments made to commercial cigarettes over the years that made smoking more difficult to quit, because it heightens the addiction to nicotine.

The Secret is in the Chemical Engineering

Cigarettes have undergone decades of chemical and design R&D to enhance their drug-related pleasurable aspects and ease of use. The modern cigarette contains smoke smootheners, humectants, burn accelerants (in the paper), sweeteners and other chemicals to make them more palatable and less irritating. They are arguably the most highly engineered and studied product in history. Neither cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin have been subjected to so many decades of intense, corporate-funded scientific research and development. Those illicit drugs are hard enough to quit, but imagine if a commercial corporate structure depended on them for profit, how much more enhanced those drugs would be as well.

Unfortunately, nothing in the new FDA tobacco law forces tobacco companies to stop freebasing nicotine in commercial cigarettes. Dr. Wigand's talk in New Zealand offers one more opportunity to remind people that despite the landmark legislation signed in 2009, it is still business-as-usual for the tobacco companies, and will be for some time to come. After all, Philip Morris only agreed to the legislation because they knew it would do little if anything to truly impact cigarette use in this country. For public health as well, everything remains status quo, including the hiding of ingredients and their purposes, from the public. For smokers, the only defense remains to become more knowledgeable about the product you use so frequently, and the people who make it.


This is a typical anti-smoking post, also fix it up. Ammonia is mainly used as a fertilizer, not as a toilet cleaner. This is just telling part of the truth to get a negative association with cigarettes. I would very much like to hear the argument which shows that cigarettes are the most highly engineered and studied product in history. The article compares them to cocain, meth and heroin (negative association again with illegal drugs this time) and even though there probably has been more R&D into cigarettes there is nothing to back up that claim. Finally the main point of the article, cigarette companies manipulate your product so you get more nicotine from less smoking. I do not see how this is a bad thing, in any other industry efficiency is considered an improvement. Also smokers want the nicotine, so why would you smoke three unprocessed cigarettes if you can get the same effect from one?

Hey twiddle-bum, read this, and shut your mouth: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,149368,00.html There are plenty of CITED references there for you. We all know this already, so it's probably about time you did so you can stop embarrassing yourself publicly. Oh wait, you're an anonymous coward.... figures. Only an idiot, or someone with tobacco interests would post crap like this.... which are you? Gettin' paid are you? Shameful, there's a place reserved for you in hell.

My dad also had hard time quitting... he died young, at the age of 52 he already passed away, that's why I didn't try smoking, but I've been a 2nd hand smoker before because of him. I hope the government can do something more about this issue. This is very informative... thanks. I hope you post more to make more people aware of this issue.

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease and chronic lung disease. Most smokers are addicted to nicotine and crave cigarettes to feed their addiction.

Why are men fond of smoking? They regard smoking as something to show their good manners and ability. What a funny logic! We know that smoking is harmful to the health. A smoker should spend his money on useful things but not on cigarettes.

We are looking always to blame something or somebody. First I am not agree with tobacco companies, worst when they add something so people are more addictive and they get more money. So why people does not quit smoking knowing that is bad for them?, well the same for people who drink, abuse drugs legals or not, drink two or more red bulls per day. There are two issues involve here, one is physical and the other is emotional. But, for me low self esteem plays and important role because we are not taking responsibility for our life. Any addiction is to look for something to avoid reality and not feeling our emotions.

The number of young smokers has gone up and smokers are picking up the habit at a younger age. Last year, 21 per cent of male high school students were smokers, compared to 16 per cent in 2004, according to the Health Ministry

There are not many smokers about who started smoking after the age of eighteen. In fact, the majority of smokers took up the habit in their early or mid teens. Many children start smoking because their friends have tried it or smoke themselves

A stick of cigarette has been with you through thick and thin and has given you much comfort and pleasure during stressful situations. This is probably the reason why you just can’t let go of smoking. A smoker who plans to permanently quit smoking would have to be fully committed and has a strong desire to do so