Nicotine Is No Worse than Your Double Latte
Urging tobacco smokers to switch to safer forms of nicotine, the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has claimed that nicotine is ‘no more harmful to health than caffeine’.
Alarmingly, the organisation found that nine out of ten people still believe that nicotine by itself is harmful.
In reality, RSPH claims, the chemical is no worse than the caffeine found in you morning cup of Joe.
Nicotine is harmful in tobacco cigarettes largely because it is combined with other dangerous ingredients including tar, arsenic and carbon monoxide. In these circumstances, the addictive chemical is dangerous because it keeps smokers hooked on dangerous tobacco cigarettes.
Almost half a million Americans die from tobacco cigarettes each year and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention label it the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
In 2015, RSPH made several recommendations to promote safer nicotine products. Their list included greater use of e-cigarettes by smoking cessation services and the mandatory sale of Nicotine Replacement Therapy in shops selling cigarettes.
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “Getting people onto nicotine rather than using tobacco would make a big difference to the public’s health – clearly there are issues in terms of having smokers addicted to nicotine, but this would move us on from having a serious and costly public health issue from smoking related disease to instead address the issue of addiction to a substance which in and of itself is not too dissimilar to caffeine addiction.”
Nicotine and Caffeine Addiction
New research goes further, analysing the addictive qualities of nicotine and caffeine.
In a new study, Karl Fagerström, an early researcher on nicotine-dependence and tobacco harm reduction, compared the degree of dependence between cigarettes, snus, nicotine replacement and coffee.
Using survey evidence from the users of these products, Fagerström compared dependence by, among other things, looking at how many subjects used the products less than 30 minutes after waking up, and asking how hard it would be for the users to give up entirely.
The results were mixed but interesting. Tobacco and snus users were more likely to use the products within 30 minutes of waking up and 35% of smokers and 33% of snus users stated that it would be very hard to give up. This was lower than the 18% of coffee drinkers.
Overall, Fagerström concluded that traditional cigarette and snus users were the most dependent, while nicotine replacement and coffee users were less dependent. The research did originally include e-cigarette users but the sample size was too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.
Fagerström also said that because the sample size of coffee users was so high, there may be as many as or more people highly addicted to coffee than to nicotine in society.
The results raise questions about how problematic coffee dependence is compared to nicotine dependence.
The research notes that, apart from some media stories about high-caffeine energy drinks, there has been very little public outcry about caffeine addiction in society.
“If a significant proportion of the population being dependent on coffee is not seen as problematic, why is our view so different with nicotine?” Fagerström asks.
Because nicotine is traditionally associated with burned tobacco and the negative health consequences that come with it, he answers.
But where does this leave other nicotine containing products like snus, nicotine replacement and e-cigarettes which have been shown to have just a fraction of the negative consequences of tobacco cigarette smoking?
Surely e-cigarettes should not be viewed with the same suspicion as regular tobacco cigarettes, especially since there is no evidence that e-cigarettes act as a route into smoking for children and non-smokers.
Surprising Health Benefits of Nicotine
With all of the research demonstrating the harmful effects of smoking tobacco, and large parts of the media demonizing nicotine containing e-cigarettes, you might be surprised to learn that nicotine can actually do some good.
Unless you smoke it in tobacco cigarettes, of course.
Nicotine Could Help You Beat Parkinson’s Disease
Health data shows that cigarette smokers are more likely to develop cancer, heart disease and all sorts of other nasty ailments. But they are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease - a nasty neurological condition that can lead to uncontrollable shaking and movement problems.
Animal trials have had some positive results and important human trials are currently underway looking at the potential of nicotine in combating Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Nicotine has also been observed to enhance brain function in people with cognitive decline and memory loss.
Nicotine Could Improve Concentration and Attention
During World War One, General John Pershing sent an urgent message to the U.S. War Department: “You ask me what we need to win this war. I answer, tobacco as much as bullets. Tobacco is as indispensable as the daily ration; we must have thousands of tons without delay.”
There can be different interpretations of his request of course, but one could be that nicotine helps keep users alert.
Nicotine is a powerful alertness enhancer and stimulant, able to improve attention, processing speed and working memory in a similar way to coffee.
This is particularly useful for people struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Research shows that nicotine can help reduce the severity ADHD symptoms and increase attention span among sufferers.