Nicotine Science

Nicotine is an alkaloid (a nitrogen-containing molecule), which naturally occurs in all varieties of tobacco plants, but can also be synthetically manufactured for use as an insecticide. It has been well-established that the pharmacological effects of nicotine are primary drivers behind people using tobacco products.

 

Tobacco plants are believed to have been cultivated up to 6,000 years ago in the Americas. However, tobacco was first documented in 1493, when Christopher Columbus returned to Europe with the plants and seeds (Nicotiana Tabacum).

 

Cigarettes, as we recognize them today, have changed very little since the late 1800s. This is particularly so after James Bonsack patented his cigarette making machine in 1881, which was capable of producing 100,000 cigarettes per day, thus reducing manufacturing costs significantly and making machine-made cigarettes more accessible to the general population.

There were many early concerns relating smoking tobacco products to health, but it probably wasn’t until the 1950s when Richard Doll and A. Bradford Hill published data linking smoking and lung cancer in the UK. Subsequently, the Royal College of Physicians published its first report on Smoking and Health in 1962, followed in 1964 by the first US Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, announcing that smoking causes lung cancer in men.

 In 1984, the FDA approved nicotine gum as a prescription medicine, and later, in 1996, the first guidelines on smoking cessation were issued by the US Federal Public Health Service.

While electronic cigarettes are a relatively new development compared to conventional tobacco products, there is an increasing view among many in the area of Public Health that the risks associated with their use are significantly less than those associated with smoking traditional combustible tobacco products.

While the risks associated with tobacco use have long been known, there is often misunderstanding relating to the role of nicotine in smoking-related diseases, even though nicotine has not been identified as a substance that causes cancer, as documented by the International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC).

Having said that, there is a lack of long-term scientific research on electronic cigarettes, and so we fully endorse the need for more research, in particular long-term epidemiological research. However, one thing that we do know is that there are far fewer toxicants in the vapor of electronic cigarettes compared to the smoke from conventional tobacco products, which would imply that electronic cigarettes have the potential to provide smokers with a reduced-risk alternative to conventional tobacco products.

The UK Royal College of Physicians considers medicinal nicotine to be a very safe drug (2007 Harm reduction in nicotine addiction; Helping people who can’t quit), although it is well known that nicotine is addictive. It is also well documented that certain groups of people such as pregnant women, those suffering from unstable heart disease, severe hypertension, diabetes, or those with an allergy or sensitivity to nicotine are best advised not to use products containing nicotine.

We recognize that nicotine use is not without it's risks. For example, at high doses, nicotine has acute toxic effects. Symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting can be the result of accidental ingestion or absorption, which can prove fatal if a very high dose is ingested or absorbed in a relatively short space of time.

"Nicotine Science." The Science of Electronic Cigarettes. Demistified, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

 

 

There are over 4000+ chemicals in tobacco smoke which cause cancer; however, nicotine is not one of them.

Nicotine is believed to be addictive because people find it difficult to give up smoking; but there are still major differences between nicotine and drugs like alcohol, cocaine and heroin. To start with, nicotine does not cause intoxication; it does not impair judgment or motor skills. In fact, nicotine is known to improve these abilities. Because of its qualities, nicotine is being considered for use as a therapeutic agent to treat conditions like ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, Tourette syndrome, Obesity, Ulcerative Colitis and inflammatory skin disorders. Nicotine is also known to help relieve depression, reduce anxiety, improve concentration and prevent weight gain.

Nicotine Abstinence

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), nicotine-related withdrawal symptoms include depressed mood, sleep disturbance, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, decreased heart rate, and increased appetite or weight gain. These symptoms are expected to peak within a day (or so) and disappear completely after a couple of weeks. However, in some groups of quitters, researchers have found that these symptoms do not dissipate and, as time goes on, can worsen.

So that brings us to the question of whether the healthiest option for a smoker would be to totally give up nicotine. The “abstinence only” stand that health officials maintain often leaves would-be abstainers in a fix. With possible problems affecting their concentration, memory and mood that could make it difficult to fulfill day-to-day responsibilities; they generally have a tendency to relapse into the smoking habit.

Even for those who do manage long-term nicotine abstinence, their physical health is not 100% better. Recent studies indicate that the average weight gained by a smoker (after quitting) is close to 5 kilograms as opposed to the general consensus of 5 pounds. This is accompanied by an average increase in waist circumference of 3.88cm. It was also observed that the weight gained after quitting smoking was very hard to lose. Smokers who become nicotine abstinent tend to develop hypertension at a higher rate than continuing smokers; those who are at risk for diabetes have been known to develop that disease 26% more often than their still-smoking counterparts.

Conclusion

For those who are at risk for long-term mood impairments, hypertension, and diabetes; smoking-cessation through replacement of adequate amounts of nicotine using a reduced-harm smoking alternative should be made available. In the absence of any real harm to general society, there is no compelling reason to deny smoking-related, harm reduction alternatives to those smokers interested in ditching cigarettes but still retaining the beneficial effects of nicotine.

Follow the links below to learn more about nicotine…

1. Nicotine as Therapy – Tabitha M Powledge, 2004
2. The possible contribution of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in depression – Bertrand D, 2005
3. Anxiolytic effects of nicotine in a rodent test of approach-avoidance conflict – Cohen A, Young RW, Velazquez MA, Groysman M, Noorbehesht K, 2009
4. Nicotine as a cognitive enhancer – Warburton DM, 1992
5. Effects of Smoking Cessation on Changes in Blood Pressure and Incidence of Hypertension – Duk-Hee Lee, Myung-Hwa Ha, Jang-Rak Kim, 2001
6. Long-term effects of nicotine gum on weight gain after smoking cessation – Nordstrom BL, Kinnunen T, Utman CH, Garvey AJ, 1999
7. Multiple roles for nicotine in Parkinson’s disease – Quik M, Huang LZ, Parameswaran N, Bordia T, Campos C, Perez XA, 2009
8. Profiles in discouragement: Two studies of variability in the time course of smoking withdrawal symptoms – Piasecki, Thomas M.; Fiore, Michael C., 1998
9. Waist circumference and weight following smoking cessation in a general population: the Inter99 study – Pisinger C, Jorgensen T, 2007