CHOICE membership

Is tobacco getting stronger?

Has anybody else noticed tobacco getting stronger? Over the past six months I have slept poorly after smoking the first cigarette from a new pouch. I have tried switching brands and moving from full strength (red) to mild (blue), but each pouch seems stronger than the last.

I have been smoking for 40 years having become addicted as a child from my mother smoking in the house. I smoke between 6 and 12 thin, filtered roll-your-own cigarettes a day depending on what I am doing. It is my only vice and the only obvious health effect for me is a loss of strength and stamina.

I spent two days making a training video in a cigarette factory in Sydney years ago so I know the symptoms of nicotine poisoning; headache, high pulse rate, restlessness etc. The tobacco leaves are steamed to remove the nicotine which is then added back (with all sorts of additives in taylor-made cigarettes) to give a consistent level of its addictive property. Knowing the manufacturing process, I always let the tobacco air for a couple of days to allow the excess nicotine to ‘blow out’.

A 50g pouch of tobacco now costs over $100, mostly excise, as the government tries to maintain its tax take from a diminishing user base, taxes that disproportionately impact poor and indigenous users. I would smoke organic, additive free or locally grown tobacco if there were tax distinctions made on the basis of nicotine content, purity or source. They are produced overseas but availability makes these products unfeasible to obtain. If there weren’t so many legal restrictions on cultivation I would grow my own.

Are tobacco companies increasing the level of nicotine they re-add to their products? Is this a last ditch effort by big tobacco to hang on to the die-hard addicts in the face of the Quit campaign, plain packaging and relentless excise increases? What agency monitors the level of nicotine and additives in tobacco products?