Health Law and Ethics
October 7, 1998

Prying Open the Door to the Tobacco Industry's Secrets About NicotineThe Minnesota Tobacco Trial

Author Affiliations

From the Nicotine Dependence Center, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minn (Dr Hurt), and the School of Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif (Dr Robertson).


Health Law and Ethics section editors: Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, the Georgetown/Johns Hopkins University Program on Law and Public Health, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Md; Helene M. Cole, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 1998;280(13):1173-1181. doi:10.1001/jama.280.13.1173

In 1994 the state of Minnesota filed suit against the tobacco industry. This trial is now history, but its legacy will carry on into the 21st century because of the revelations contained in the millions of pages of previously secret internal tobacco industry documents made public in the trial. In this article, we review representative documents relating to nicotine addiction, low-tar, low-nicotine cigarettes, and cigarette design and nicotine manipulation in cigarette manufacture. These documents reveal that for decades, the industry knew and internally acknowledged that nicotine is an addictive drug and cigarettes are the ultimate nicotine delivery device; that nicotine addiction can be perpetuated and even enhanced through cigarette design alterations and manipulations; and that "health-conscious" smokers could be captured by low-tar, low-nicotine products, all the while ensuring the marketplace viability of their products. Appreciation of tobacco industry strategies over the past decades is essential to formulate an appropriate legislative and public policy response. We propose key elements for such legislation and urge no legal or financial immunity for the tobacco industry.