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State Tobacco Research Board Working to Reduce Disease in Crops

Todd Shoemake Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Members of the Kentucky Tobacco Research Board were updated Monday during their quarterly meeting on the ongoing effort to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes. 

A researcher with more than three decades of experience says a nicotine-free cigarette is not in the cards.

Bob Miller, a tobacco breed specialist, says researchers already know how to reduce the addictive trigger in cigarettes from about five percent in burley tobacco to less than one percent.  But he says that wouldn’t be accepted by smokers.  “If the FDA does choose to move nicotine down so low below where it’s acceptable to a consumer, then what we will in effect be doing, is driving more people to e-cigarettes,” said Miller. 

Miller says with e-cigarettes, smokers can control the amount of nicotine delivery.  He maintains that lowering the level of nicotine in regular cigarettes could prove to be counterproductive.

Miller is with the Kentucky-Tennessee Tobacco Improvement Initiative.  He spent many years working to find ways to reduce disease in the plant.  “For about the first 30 years it was all about disease resistance and yield and quality," he says.  "Now, it’s shifting more toward chemistry and there are no safe tobacco products of course, but anything we can do to decrease the potential harm, that’s what we’re trying to do."

Research Specialist Anne Jack spoke to the group about the Burley Minimum Standards Program.  Jack says Kentucky tobacco growers can benefit from advice on plant variety.  “The purpose of this program is to make sure that varieties that are unsuitable to the industry do not get released; and it is not in the farmers’ interest for varieties to be released that the industry does not want to buy,” said Jack.

Jack says this process includes holding panels with trained members who smoke cigarettes and offering judgment on what’s acceptable to sell.?

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