As the November 16 date of the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout approaches, new evidence indicates that the nation’s tobacco companies are adding nicotine to their cigarettes, an “enhancement” that is likely to make quitting far more difficult.

“The effort to quit tobacco is never easy,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “Pumping up nicotine levels is deplorable and just adds to the struggle.”

“The reports are stunning,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, speaking to a Washington Post reporter. “What’s critical is the consistency of the increase, which leads to the conclusion that it has to have been conscious and deliberate.”

Out of 116 brands tested by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 92 had higher nicotine levels in 2004 than in 1998. More than half (52) had increases greater than ten percent. The biggest increase – 36 percent – was Doral Lights, made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The most popular brand among high school students, Marlboro, increased 12 percent. Kool Lights – a menthol brand – increased 30 percent. In all, 93 percent of all brands tested fell into the highest range for nicotine.

“We know nicotine is addictive,” said the Centers for Disease Control’s acting director of the Office on Smoking and Health, Corinne Husten, “so if the amount of nicotine in cigarettes is increasing, it could make it even harder for the 70 percent of smokers who want to quit and the more than 40 percent who try to quit every year.”

When asked by the Post and other national media, none of the nation’s big three tobacco companies was willing to comment on the latest data, which was published at the end of August. Some companies justified their unwillingness by citing a recent U.S. District Court ruling that enjoins them from misinforming the public about tobacco hazards.

In that ruling, based on industry documents secured during the landmark anti-tobacco litigation of the 1990s, Judge Gladys Kessler wrote, “Using the knowledge produced by [their] research, [the tobacco companies] have designed their cigarettes to precisely control nicotine delivery levels and provide doses of nicotine sufficient to create and sustain addiction.”

While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has collected data on nicotine levels since the early 1970s, it stopped publishing the results in 1999. The FTC’s results were frequently controversial because its test methods were not designed to simulate real smoking. Massachusetts, a national leader among states in spending on tobacco control, began its more realistic monitoring program in 1998.

“The increase in nicotine levels makes the efforts of smokers who want to quit more difficult,” says O’Sullivan.  “Smoking is a serious problem among Laborers, not only because they smoke at a rate higher than the nation as a whole, but also because many work around caustic substances that combine with tobacco to intensify lung damage when they are inhaled.”

Fortunately, nicotine patches and other nicotine replacement therapies can make quitting easier for some smokers. Many are available over-the-counter and others can be acquired with a doctor’s prescription.

The Great American Smokeout, begun nationwide by the American Cancer Society in 1977, is designed to draw attention to the tobacco problem by encouraging smokers to quit for one day. The Society provides long-term help through its Quit Line Center.

The LHSFNA also has a wide range of publications in English and Spanish that expose the dangers of smoking, especially for Laborers, and provide guidance to those who want to quit. The newest of these are the Tools for Health tip sheets, developed in partnership with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard.