Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Proven Positive Effects of Nicotine and Tobacco

In 1994, Jacob Sullum told the following story at a Cato Institute seminar on tobacco use:

“A few years ago when I was working on a story about the antismoking movement for Reason magazine, I interviewed Scott Ballin, chairman of the Coalition on Smoking or Health. I raised the question of why people smoke. ‘There is no positive aspect to it,’ he assured me. ‘The product has no potential benefits.’ Not everyone concurs with that assessment; in a recent column in Vanity Fair, for example, Christopher Hitchens wrote that ‘cigarettes improve my short-term concentration, aid my digestion, make me a finer writer and a better dinner companion, and in several other ways prolong my life.’”

Disparaging tobacco’s value is a familiar theme with tobacco prohibitionists. They claim that the substance is worthless, and that the beneficial effects reported by smokers are only symptoms of relief from nicotine withdrawal. But smokers believe that they derive specific benefits. Who is telling the truth?

A meta-analysis just published in the journal Psychopharmacology reviewed the effects of nicotine and smoking on aspects of human performance (abstract here). The lead author is Stephen Heishman, a scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse; he is joined by Bethea Kleykamp of Johns Hopkins University and Edward Singleton of Stevenson University. The study will not please anti-tobacco extremists.

Heishman et al. reviewed 15 years of published studies on the effects of nicotine and smoking on various measures of human performance. They had strict criteria for the studies they accepted; one of the most important was including only nonsmokers or smokers who had not been deprived, in order to eliminate the confounding effects of withdrawal on performance.

Heishman et al. found that nicotine and/or smoking produces positive effects involving fine motor skills, attention and memory. The investigators conclude: “The significant effects of nicotine on motor abilities, attention, and memory likely represent true performance enhancement because they are not confounded by withdrawal relief. The beneficial cognitive effects of nicotine have implications for initiation of smoking and maintenance of tobacco dependence.”

It’s time to be honest with the 50 million Americans, and hundreds of millions around the world, who use tobacco. The benefits they get from tobacco are very real, not imaginary or just the periodic elimination of withdrawal. It’s time to abandon the myth that tobacco is devoid of benefits, and to focus on how we can help smokers continue to derive those benefits with a safer delivery system.


Anonymous said...

It is time! I'm glad you wrote this. Smoking (now vaping) improves my day in a myriad of ways. It irks me that non-smokers look at me and think, and sometimes say, "idiot." Yes, I have an addiction. It happens to be one with positive benefits. Perhaps more positive than negative in the short-term and maybe in the long-term if I am lucky. If it did nothing and was worthless except for having to maintain the habit, I would most assuredly quit.

josef horhay said...

Thanks for the article. Would it stand to reason that the positive nicotine benefits can be administered via nicotine supplements instead of smoking? or is there other chemicals in cigarette smoke that enhances creative performance/memory/attention? Nicotine increases the release of dopamine and serotonin - a lack of dopamine or serotonin is a common cause of depression.

The problem with smoking is the delivery system ie. smoke. Smoke from cigarettes is harmful and have been clinically tested to show an increase chance of developing cancer across the board.

Anonymous said...

I was a smoker for 25 years, and stopped about 15 years ago using the Nicolette gum. Alas , I have been chewing the Tim's for 15 years! I recently purchased an ecig, because I would really like to stop chewing the gum, because it is so expensive. I spend 6 to 700 a month on these. I am trying to determine if the ecigs are worse for you than the gum, and can't find an answer. Does anyone know?

Anonymous said...

Just remember that commercialized tobacco is not pure nicotine. There are many chemicals added in the production that does not occur in the tobacco plant naturally.

Anonymous said...

There are NO positive effects to smoking. There is a laundry list of negative effects, too many to list. Smoking is a sure way of getting a disease, cancer and killing yourself as form of slow suicide. The smoking industry want to sell products and dont care about health or protection of customers and it is a front if they say otherwise.
As a scientist and fitness instructor I am strongly against smoking and any thing that suggests that says it is not as lethal as it actually is.

Anonymous said...

There most certainly are positive effects! There are countless studies to prove that! Many of the benefits are even greater for those with certain neurological diseases like ocd or adhd.

The greatest benefit is protecting against Parkinson's disease.

Many people that smoke have endured risk factors for Parkinsons like concussions, pesticides, workplace chemical exposure, vitamin D deficiency etc. That would be blue collar workers.

Anonymous said...

There have been many people who find relief from symptoms of Celiac's disease through smoking/nicotine as well.

Unknown said...

Nicotine can function as an imunosuppresant that helps people with autoimmune disease like colitis.

Anonymous said...

For those of you responding " I knew it, smoking is good for me" or " are you mad, I'm a fitness instructor" etc read the article. Nicotine has benefits. The popular delivery system for nicotine is nasty. I love nicotine like I love caffeine. Fortunately you don't have to combust and inhale coffee beans to enjoy it. And you can deliver nicotine fast with an ENDS. And before you say nicotine is addictive look up the ASAM or WHO definition of addiction. I don't even think a drug can be addictive, as addiction is a biopsychosocial phenomenon. When I smoked I used a drug against my better judgement so I had an addiction to cigarettes enhanced by nicotine. I never got "addicted" to NRT nor to e cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes is dissonant to users' wishes about their behaviour, smokeless nicotine delivery, like caffeine, for the vast majority, isn't.

Anderson Sweden said...

Cigarette contains a chemical called nicotine. In less than ten seconds of your first puff, nicotine reaches your brain where it stimulates and releases chemical messengers like epinephrine and dopamine. These chemical messengers allows you to relax and calm. They also sharpens your brain and increases your alertness.

Anonymous said...

Yes, smoking has a boatload of negatives, but there are indeed positives. It's up to the individual to decide if it's a net positive or net negative.

Since becoming a regular smoker, my erratic brain waves have become less erratic allowing for consistent deep sleep which is essential to feeling good the following day.

For what it's worth, my epilepsy medicine got rid of my seizures but not my tossing and turning nights. Nicotine has been an effective supplement to the medication.

Unknown said...

I bicycle fifty miles a day and smoke a pack of cigarettes a week. I drive my bicycling group crazy when we stop for a rest and I light up. How ever my performance on the one hundred mile rides are better then theirs. I'm not saying we should encourage smoking, my mother and alot of her family has died from a genetic form of COPD and they all smoked up to the day they died, none lived past seventy. But I feel tobacco is a great stimulant. Like everything else should be used in moderation. I also believe it's not for everyone. Thank you.