Tuesday, January 16, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicotine Added To Cigarettes, Legal Brief Says -- Philip Morris Statements To Congress Contradicted


WASHINGTON - Philip Morris is offering a rare glimpse into how it makes cigarettes to rebut a court document that accuses the company of running a "tobacco-extract factory" to add nicotine to cigarettes.

A legal brief written by lawyers for ABC-TV before the network settled its libel suit with Philip Morris last summer contradicts Philip Morris statements to Congress that the company does not control or manipulate the nicotine in cigarettes.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said yesterday he would press for Congress to recall company executives to explain the discrepancies.

"These documents completely contradict the sworn testimony," said Waxman, an anti-smoking campaigner who chaired the 1994 tobacco hearings. "We used to think that nicotine was a simple byproduct of an agricultural product. Now we're seeing that the level of nicotine is very precisely spelled out."

The brief, which is under court seal in Virginia but was obtained by Associated Press, purports to quote Philip Morris employee manuals and other documents saying the company extracts nicotine from tobacco that it throws away and then adds this new nicotine to other tobacco batches.

"To this extent (the Philip Morris plant) is a tobacco-extract factory," the brief says.

The brief also quotes an employee manual instructing workers to measure the amount of nicotine and other chemicals in the tobacco as it is being processed "once per hour to ensure they are within

specified ranges."

The internal Philip Morris documents ABC quoted remain under seal in Virginia state court, so the brief's assertions could not be independently verified.

Philip Morris told Congress it adds back to tobacco the natural nicotine that literally floats out as it is processed and that it only measures nicotine levels twice, in raw tobacco and finished cigarettes.

Philip Morris attorney Michael York said the brief doesn't prove otherwise.

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed classifying cigarettes as medical devices to deliver the drug nicotine so it could regulate cigarettes. The tobacco industry insists its products are not such devices and that nicotine is not addictive.

At issue in the court brief is "reconstituted tobacco," stems, stalks and other refuse the tobacco companies boil and mash into sheets that can then be mixed with pure tobacco and rolled into cigarettes. About 25 percent of the tobacco in some top brands is reconstituted, but little is known about how it is made because tobacco companies fear revealing trade secrets.

To counter the ABC arguments, York yesterday provided an unusually detailed explanation of how Philip Morris makes cigarettes.

The first step is soaking the tobacco in water. The ABC brief says instead of clean water, Philip Morris uses a nicotine-containing "rich brown water."

York said the water contains a trace amount of nicotine and is used to recycle water instead of wasting millions of gallons a day.

The water makes soluble chemicals in the tobacco, including nicotine, float out. Philip Morris captures the water as an extract that it adds back to the tobacco once it is pounded out into sheets.

The ABC brief says Philip Morris also gets this extract from tobacco that it throws away, thus providing extra nicotine to add to the sheets it makes.

"This bears repeating: The nicotine applied is derived from another source," the brief says.

York said that did occur with a small percentage of the batches in 1989 and 1990 when manufacturing glitches made the remaining fibers unusable. Those problems were fixed and tobacco wasn't thrown away again, he said.

The brief says Philip Morris then evaporates the water to leave a concentrated chemical soup that is reapplied to the tobacco fibers. Hourly measurements ensure the tobacco absorbs enough nicotine extract or more is sprayed on, the brief says.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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