Evidence has emerged in the US Justice Department investigation of the tobacco industry of companies deliberately increasing nicotine levels in tobacco to increase their addictiveness to smokers.
In 1998 the US Justice Department brought the first criminal action accusing a biotechnology company of engaging in a scheme with a major cigarette maker to produce tobacco that has twice the nicotine level of the regular leaf. The biotechnology company was charged with misdemeanor conspiracy to export genetically engineered seeds capable of yielding the high-nicotine tobacco. The genetically engineered tobacco code-named Y-1, which cannot be grown in the US because federal regulations bar domestic production of tobacco with enhanced levels of nicotine, was being grown in Brazil and other foreign countries. While the company argued the goal of the project was not to strengthen nicotine levels but to maintain standard levels through blending, the US Justice Department charged that the aim of the conspiracy was to produce high-nicotine tobacco for use in manipulating cigarette nicotine strength.
Cigarette labels may mislead consumers to underestimate the amount of nicotine they actually receive. Current approaches to characterizing tar and nicotine yields of cigarettes are simplistic and misleading to consumers and regulators alike.