by Carl V Phillips
I am seldom inclined to outsource to a popular press article, but this article in Discover magazine, by Dan Hurley does a very nice job of presenting the case for the positive effects of nicotine in an easy breezy style. I recommend it. It is designed to just argue the affirmative case — it is not at all balanced — but arguing the affirmative case has a lot of value when most people do not even realize there is such a case.
The only caveat is that I suggest you stop reading when you hit the word “Tobacco” in the last section (by which Hurley means “smoking”). Of course, since I know you will not actually do that, I need to point out that Hurley gets a few things out-and-out wrong in that bit and seems to be wandering off into subtopics that he clearly did not understand. He gets a grade of C — maybe a B-minus — as an analyst of the science (it is simply not his expertise — that is fine), but an A+ as a journalist (his actual job) for very effectively presenting the bits that come before that in spite of not fully understanding the science.
This is a nice counterpoint to the junk science article by CDC that I analyzed a few days ago, which started with the unstated and unsupported premise that everything about nicotine exposure is bad. We know that is not the case. Of course, if someone who is concerned about nicotine exposure in particular subpopulations wants to recognize the positives and then seriously examine whether those might turn into net negatives for pregnant women or adolescents, that is fine. That would be useful to know. For comparison, honest and serious analysts have largely reached a consensus that alcohol consumption is beneficial for overall health after the age of 30 (so long as it is not in outlandish quantities, of course), but is probably harmful before 25. But anyone who starts with the premise that nicotine is always “the Great Satan” (Hurley’s words), and thus just assumes any exposure must be harmful, is producing junk propaganda rather than science.
It is also worth mentioning the context of the very last bit of my pamphlet/handout about e-cigarettes in which I point out how several experts on tobacco and health have started using tobacco products in middle age because they understand their benefits. Contra to Hurley’s simplistic “nicotine good; tobacco bad” bit at the end of his article, all but one of them that I know has taken up snus, with only one choosing NRT. In fairness to Hurley, it is hard enough for someone to overcome the immersion in propaganda to realize that nicotine exposure has major benefits; it is harder still to go the next step and recognize that whole-leaf tobacco exposure might be better still, rather than being worse. I trust it is obvious to anyone who reads this blog that inhaling smoke is the big bad (no matter what is burning), and thus without smoke either tobacco or just nicotine, or both, might have positive effects. But the Orwellian use of “tobacco” to refer to smoking keeps most people from understanding that.