Nicotine levels in cigarettes went up 15% between 1999 and 2011, according to a study published this week in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

The data were collected from the annual report filed with Massachusetts Department of Public Health by four major manufacturers of cigarettes from 1997 to 2012.

“Young people could have an easier time becoming addicted to cigarettes the first few times they do smoke,” lead author Thomas Land, director of the Office of Health Information Policy and Informatics at the State Health Department, told Deborah Kotz of The Boston Globe.

From The Globe:

Each day, 3800 American teens try their first cigarette and 1000 become hooked, according to a 2012 Surgeon General’s report. Those who are unable to quit as adults will die, on average, 13 years earlier than their peers. 

This is not the first study to find rising nicotine levels in cigarettes. In 2007, a Harvard study found nicotine levels had gone up by nearly 11% between 1997 and 2005, the Globe noted. Industry executives disputed the findings and attributed the increase to agricultural and rainfall variations that led to more concentrated levels of nicotine in tobacco crops.

But Land told The Globe that if that were the case, “we would have seen a similar trend of increased nicotine yield for all cigarette makers since they tend to buy their tobacco from the same regions. We did not.”

The study concludes that nicotine levels "are controllable features of cigarettes, and should be monitored and regulated by government agencies."

While federal law lets the FDA set new regulations to lower nicotine content, according to Kotz, he noted that the agency has not set new limits on the amount of nicotine allowed in each cigarette.

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