Nix to Nicotine Sweets

CALL it the candy that never made it: ''a confection with nicotine.''

When the U.S. Tobacco company gathered its scientists in 1968 to ponder future products in a world suddenly scared of tobacco's health risks, edible nicotine was one resulting - and ultimately rejected - concept. They even came up with a slogan to push snuff products: ''Tobacco - too good to smoke.''

The US tobacco industry may have won a coup by prompting an apology from ABC News for its claim that cigarettemakers ''spiked'' their products with extra nicotine. But documents released last week indicate that the industry knew of nicotine's addictive properties and plotted strategies for manipulating nicotine levels to gain and retain customers.

The industry was inventive, according to some 100,000 documents released Aug. 17 by the Food and Drug Administration. Handwritten notes and minutes of meetings detail attempts to ''start a fad'' with moist snuff and companies' plans to carefully pluck tobacco leaves from the very top of the plant - because they contain the most nicotine.

There was great need to be inventive. As the FDA quoted one Philip Morris memo: Without nicotine, ''the cigarette market would collapse, P.M. would collapse, and we'd all lose our jobs and our consulting fees.''

The documents show companies learned to make cigarettes that delivered more nicotine in the first few puffs and to add ammonia to boost nicotine levels. Tennessee Eastman Co. pitched the idea of filters that selectively screen out tar but not nicotine, to provide low-tar cigarettes ''with a higher than normal nicotine content.''

Cross-breeding increased the amount of nicotine present in US tobacco varieties, and Brown & Williamson Co. went to South America to secretly grow tobacco with super-high nicotine levels.

The tobacco industry insists that it does not manipulate nicotine in tobacco to hook smokers, and it is challenging the FDA's attempt to regulate its products on that basis.

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