Wednesday, June 8, 2022

There Never Was a Tobacco/Nicotine Addiction “Secret”


Mitch Zeller, former director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, provided valuable insights on the war against tobacco harm reduction in a May 19 presentation at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.  His slide presentation is available here.

Zeller justifies tobacco regulation primarily on perceived industry misdeeds, which he illustrates with quotes from the 1960s, 70s and 80s from industry documents: “Tobacco products uniquely contain and deliver nicotine, a potent drug with a variety of physiological effects,” “Nicotine is addictive,” “Think of a puff of smoke as the vehicle of nicotine.”

Zeller implied that corporate executives knew but covered up critical nicotine facts, like nicotine was the active, addictive ingredient in tobacco.

Everybody knew about the nicotine addiction “secret.” 

Nicotine is one of the most thoroughly studied drugs in the history of medicine. A mere 80 years after Columbus discovered tobacco and the New World in 1492, crude nicotine was isolated and identified.  It was chemically purified in 1828, and its molecular formula was determined in 1843.  British scientists described the effects of nicotine on the nervous system as early as 1889.  From the 1930s to the 1950s, many medical authorities already considered tobacco use to be habit-forming or addictive. In 1936, tobacco use was described as “a form of drug addiction, even though a pleasant one, not affecting criminal statistics.”

In 1942, L. M. Johnston conducted some remarkable experiments where nicotine was successfully injected into smokers to satisfy their cigarette cravings.  Johnston reported these findings in the renowned British medical journal The Lancet, where he also discussed nicotine tolerance, craving and withdrawal symptoms, concluding: “Clearly the essence of tobacco smoking is the tobacco and not the smoking. Satisfaction can be obtained from chewing it, from snuff-taking, and from the administration of nicotine.”

By the 1950s, the topic of nicotine addiction had moved beyond medical journals to books for the general public.  The Habit of Tobacco Smoking (by W. Koskowski, Staples Press Ltd.) appeared in 1955, followed in 1959 by A. King's The Cigarette Habit: A Scientific Cure (Doubleday and Co.).

During the 1960s and 1970s, when, according to anti-tobacco zealots, suppression of tobacco industry research on nicotine peaked, nicotine was the subject of thousands of independent research articles. Medline, the National Library of Medicine's computerized data base, lists 1,000 such studies between 1966 and 1976. The number increased to 1,500 in the period from 1976 to 1984, and to nearly 4,000 during the next decade. Many of the 1970s and 1980s research reports provided scientific validation of what smokers had been saying for nearly a century:

It's hard to quit smoking.



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