Many people are addicted to a stimulant. Lawyer-driven groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest have long wanted to sue coffee companies over caffeine but haven't gained much traction despite their efforts to claim it causes things like breast cancer.

Unlike caffeine, nicotine gets no such free pass, and a new paper in PLOS Medicine seeks to invoke Big Tobacco stigma to claim a conspiracy to undermine knowledge of the addictive qualities of nicotine. The scholars, from University of California, San Francisco (which has received generous grants from the pharmaceutical giants behind nicotine patches and gums) analyzed publicly available internal Philip Morris (now Altria) documents to see if  the company's understanding of addiction before and after publicly admitting nicotine's addictiveness was any different.

Unsurprisingly, their acceptance only evolved as our knowledge of its addictive qualities did. But then it changed, scholars from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, which received millions in funding thanks to the 1990s tobacco settlement. Philip Morris continued studying addiction through the 2000s to develop safer nicotine products, and until 2006 regarded psychological, social, and environmental factors as comparable in importance to nicotine in driving cigarette use. That makes sense, these are all long-acknowledged factors in addiction of many kinds, including alcohol: If you want to recover from alcoholism, you have to stop hanging out with your alcoholic friends.

But the authors contend that the cigarette company focused on nicotine to make money - by redirecting their previous beliefs away from social and environmental interventions they could promote reduced harm industry products. 

They hearken back to those documents to advance their cultural agenda - stigmatizing smokers and diminishing the addiction quality of nicotine - in order to promote even more advertising restrictions, plain packaging, higher tobacco taxes, and widespread restrictions on smokers.

Citation:  Elias J, Hendlin YH, Ling PM (2018) Public versus internal conceptions of addiction: An analysis of internal Philip Morris documents. PLoS Med 15(5): e1002562. https:/​/​doi.​org/​10.​1371/​journal.​pmed.​1002562