GE Tobacco

Genetic Engineering

Big Tobacco and Big Biotech: Powerful Allies
The biotechnology industry's ability to manipulate characteristics of
the tobacco plant has caught Big Tobacco's attention in a big way.
Tobacco corporations like Brown & Williamson (B&W) have funded
research into engineering plants with altered levels of nicotine that contain
twice the normal level of nicotine found in flue cured tobacco.1

The tobacco, called Y-1, made its way from the labs into the fields,
and was used by B&W in five brands of cigarettes sold in the US, including
two varieties of Viceroy.2 Though company officials argued at a
congressional hearing that the experiments were designed to enhance
cigarette flavor,3 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wasn't

The FDA slapped a lawsuit on DNA Plant Technology (DNAP) for
conspiring with Brown and Williamson "to develop a reliable source of supply of
high-nicotine tobaccos that the company could then use to control and
manipulate the nicotine levels in its cigarettes."4 B&W's
behind-the-scenes effort to addict more smokers has not gone unnoticed
by the government or by the public. Read more about Y-1 tobacco in our
case study, "Fuomo Loco."

While some tobacco companies are collaborating with Big Biotech to
target smokers as they begin smoking, Japan Tobacco has chosen to
focus on smokers who are already suffering from smoking related diseases. In
a recent deal uncovered by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH-UK)
activists, Japan Tobacco bought the rights to develop vaccines and
treatments for lung cancer based on genetic patents owned by biotech
company Corixa.5

ASH-UK Director Clive Bates summarizes the purchase as "the
remorseless and hideous logic of the tobacco business at work-if your customers
are going down with terminal cancer, you might as well try to make some
money from their suffering once you've sold them a lifetime supply of
cigarettes. It's a kind of vertical integration of smoking and cancer,
all in the name of profit."6 Japan Tobacco also has invested in British Biotech's development of a
genetically engineered protein that can dissolve blood clots and could
help prevent heart attacks,7 showing that Big Tobacco has no objection
to profiting from the public health epidemics caused by smoking.

Big Benefits for Big Biotech
The tobacco plant's genes are among the most easily manipulated of all
plants, making it a prime subject for Big Biotech's genetic
experiments. Tobacco has been experimentally engineered for projects as diverse as
cleaning up toxic contaminants8 and developing artificial sweetener
substitutes for fructose.9 Genetic researchers also use tobacco as a
"molecular farm", inserting human genes into the plants' DNA in order
to farm proteins that are used to develop pharmaceutical products like
vaccines and medicines.

Optimistic biotechnology researchers have predicted that, "In the
future, it is very probable that more tobacco will be raised for the
purpose of making human proteins than is raised today for making
cigars, cigarettes, and other traditional tobacco products."10 Since genetic
engineering requires a large supply of tobacco plants to be produced
at locations close to the experimental laboratories, biotechnology
corporations hope that US farmers will quickly make the switch from
growing traditional tobacco to raising genetically modified strains.11

However, genetic engineering presents a complex problem for tobacco
farmers. If traditional crops are contaminated by pollen from
genetically altered plants grown nearby, farmers will be unable to
sell them in European and Asian markets, where restrictions on the import
of genetically altered products exist. Concerned that genetically
modified tobacco may pollute their non-GMO crops and make them unmarketable,
tobacco farmers have begun to resist Big Biotech.

North Carolina farmer Jimmy Hill voices his objection to potential
genetic pollution by genetically altered tobacco, saying, "What's the
point of losing 50 per cent of the market just to have Vector [tobacco
company] grow 4 or 5 million pounds of [genetically engineered]
tobacco?"12 Hill and other farmers posed a bill before state
legislature proposing restrictions on the farming of genetically altered crops,
and have also met with Big Tobacco CEO Bennet LeBow and the governor of
North Carolina to discuss their concerns.

Despite farmer resistance, government decision-makers across the
country are all too eager to support the biotechnology industry. A survey
released in 2001 revealed that 41 of 48 states that responded had
"initiatives to support the development of biotechnology."13
Ironically, 21 states have used money won in the 1998 National Tobacco Settlement
to fund this research, spending 4.5 per cent of the settlement money on
biotech experiments, which almost matches the 5 per cent spent on
tobacco control programs.14

Case Study: "Fuomo Loco"

Allegations that the tobacco industry manipulates the levels of
nicotine in tobacco plants in order to addict more smokers have long been part
of anti-tobacco-industry lawsuits. In 1998, Brown & Williamson, a British
American Tobacco (BAT) subsidiary, gave solid proof to uphold these

In a contract with Oakland-based biotechnology company DNA Plant
Technology (DNAP), Brown & Williamson paid for the development of
tobacco plants called Y-1 that contain twice the normal level of
nicotine found in regular flue cured tobacco.15 The seeds were
illegally carried into Brazil and other countries by DNAP and B&W employees who
hid the seeds "in their luggage or on their persons," according to
Justice Department papers. The seeds were distributed to farmers by
Souza Cruz, another subsidiary of British American Tobacco and one of
Brazil's main leaf buyers. 16

The tobacco, called "fuomo loco" (crazy tobacco) by the Brazilian
farmers who grew it, had such a strong narcotic effect that it made
farmers dizzy when they handled it. "Even out in the field, I had a
hard time approaching the stuff without getting dizzy... that smell was
heavy, it made the back of my neck crawl," said tobacco field
instructor Juca Schneider.17

Between 1990 and 1994, Souza Cruz exported almost 8 million pounds of
Y-1 tobacco to the United States for use in Brown and Williamson
cigarettes including Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes. According to BAT's
director of leaf blending, B&W added twice the amount of genetically
engineered tobacco to products exported to Asia, the Middle East, and
Western Europe as it put in cigarettes sold domestically.18

The company stated that it would continue to put Y-1 in its cigarettes
until the 3.5 million pound stockpile ran out in 1999, but farmers in
Brazil were still growing the plant as late as 1998. "The company line
is that what we're planting today is different tobacco, but anyone who
works with the stuff knows that's just a story," said former Souza
Cruz field instructor Enoir Mueller.19

1 Weinstein, Henry. "U.S. Accuses Company of High-Nicotine Plot." Los
Angeles Times 8 Jan. 1998. 13 Mar. 2002
2 ibid.
3 ibid.
4 ibid.
5 Boseley, Sarah. "Tobacco Firm to Profit from Cancer Genes." The
Guardian (UK) 12 Nov. 2001. 15 Jan.
2002 .
6 Action on Smoking and Health. "Japan Tobacco Tries to Profit from
Smoking and Cancer." Press Release 13
Nov. 2001 <>.
7 Gene Watch U.K, "Patent on Life Warning as Links Between Biotech
Companies and Japan Tobacco
Exposed." Press Release 30 June 1999
8 Scientific American. "Transgenic Tobacco Detoxifies TNT." 3 Dec.
7 Feb. 2002 <>.
9 Hagedorn, Charles. "Sugar from Tobacco: NBIAP News Report (USDA)."
Nov. 1994. 7 Feb. 2002
10 SCARCNet Daily Bulletin. "Future of Tobacco Crop May Be In
Biotechnology." 7 Jan. 1999. 7 Feb. 2002
11 Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "Possible Healthy & Constructive
Uses for Tobacco Leaf." 20 Apr. 2000.
13 Mar. 2002
12 Akre, Jane. "An Engineered Controversy." Mother Jones.
January/February 2002. 13 Mar. 2002
13 The Lasker Foundation. "Report on State Support for Health Research
for Funding First." 26 Oct. 2001. 7
Feb. 2002 <>.
14 Jones, Steven D. "In the Money: Tobacco Cash Enriching Biotech
Industry." The Wall Street Journal. 16
Nov. 2001. 20 Nov. 2001
15 Weinstein, Henry. "U.S. Accuses Company of High-Nicotine Plot." Los
Angeles Times 8 Jan. 1998. 13
Mar. 2002
16 Lewan, Todd. "BrazilÕs Secret: Crazy Tobacco." Pest Management at
the Crossroads. 12 Dec. 1997. 20 Mar. 2002 URL:
17 SCARCNet Daily Bulletin. "Brown and Williamson Creates Genetically
Altered Plant With Twice the Nicotine." 31 Dec. 1997. 13 Mar. 2002
18 Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "Country Case Studies: Brazil."
Oct. 1998. 13 Mar. 2002
19 SCARCNet Daily Bulletin. "Brown and Williamson Creates Genetically
Altered Plant With Twice the Nicotine." 31 Dec. 1997. 13 Mar. 2002

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