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Stop the war on nicotine: Six Reasons

Introduction

Smoking is one of the leading causes of illness and death in the world. More than eight million people die each year due to smoking, with almost 99% of tobacco-related deaths caused by smoking — not from other forms of nicotine consumption. Reducing the number of smokers and allowing them to rapidly and efficiently switch to a less harmful alternative should be a major priority for governments and public health agencies worldwide. Unfortunately, too many people confuse nicotine consumption with the diseases caused by smoking. In this paper, we outline six main reasons why the war on nicotine is pointless and should stop. 

Background

In the past few years, we have witnessed great successes in reducing smoking rates globally, especially in countries where smokers had many alternatives to choose from. In the UK for example, Public Health England, an agency of the Ministry of Health, actively recommended smokers to switch to e-cigarettes. That allowed for very progressive frameworks on vaping to be introduced. Due to these policies, the UK has seen much better results in reducing smoking compared to more restrictive countries.

In the UK, smoking rates have fallen by 25% since 2013 (when vaping became popular). By contrast, in Australia, which has some of the world’s toughest vaping regulations, smoking rates fell by just 8% in the same period. Due to the openness towards snus, a form of smokeless tobacco, Sweden reports the lowest adult smoking rate in the developed world, at just 7% (while it remains banned elsewhere in the European Union). The result is lower rates of smoking-induced illnesses. Norway experienced similar success due to its relaxed approach to snus regulation. 

Instead of celebrating declining numbers of smokers and far fewer deaths, many governments, public health agencies and anti-smoking activists have been on the hunt for new enemies. They decided to scapegoat nicotine, and as a result, the fight against smoking gradually transformed into a fight against nicotine. Such an approach has dire consequences: fewer people switching to less harmful alternatives. 

It is time to end the war on nicotine. Here are six main reasons why. 

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6 Reasons to STOP the War on Nicotine:

People consume nicotine, but they die from smoking.
It is true that people should not be encouraged to start consuming nicotine. But public health authorities must abstain from preventing current smokers from switching to vaping and other alternatives. The British National Health Service follows a pragmatic approach towards nicotine consumption and vaping by stating that: “While nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, it’s relatively harmless. Almost all of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic.”

Nicotine in patches & gums is not a problem — it is neither when vaped nor in a pouch.
Nicotine is not considered a problem in conventional nicotine replacement therapy, therefore it cannot be a bigger problem in vaping or snus. The package leaflet from Nicorette’s inhalator says: “It is the toxins in cigarette smoke such as tar, lead, cyanide and ammonia that cause smoking related disease and death, not the nicotine.” The question arises, therefore, why should nicotine be a bigger problem when consumed in e-cigarettes or snus?

Addiction is complex and not solved by a war on nicotine.
There is no doubt that nicotine triggers the release of dopamine and thus contributes to addiction to smoking, but it can’t be the only reason why so many people fail to quit smoking. If nicotine were the sole reason for smoking addiction, every smoker using a nicotine patch should be able to quit smoking right away. Clearly, this is not the case. The smokers’ addiction is based on a combination of nicotine and other ingredients of tobacco smoke together with conditioned behaviour [the socalled ‘smoking ritual’] like the coffee break or the inhalation process. 

 

Nicotine makes some people smarter, stronger and more attractive.
For decades nicotine has been synonymous with smoking. This made a majority of people believe that nicotine per se is the main reason for the negative health effects caused by smoking. While it is clear that most people should not start consuming nicotine if they don’t already do, it is time to assess nicotine fully and completely without leaving out the evidence that doesn’t fit into the anti-nicotine agenda. Nicotine can have positive health effects in some settings, and for the sake of scientific honesty, the discourse on smoking shouldn’t turn a blind eye to those.

 

Misconceptions about nicotine are hindering progress.
The public perception when it comes to nicotine is unfortunately torted. More than 57% of respondents in a survey falsely agreed with the statement that “nicotine in cigarettes is the substance that causes most of the cancer caused by smoking” and even 80% of physicians falsely believe that nicotine causes cancer. These wrongfully held beliefs by the public and experts have negative effects.

Prohibition never works.
If policy makers by now should have learned one thing from history, it is that prohibition doesn’t work. Alcohol prohibition in the US was a complete disaster leading to more alcohol consumption, unsave consumption and generated huge cartells. The war on drugs worldwide is a complete failure and in many cases resulted in counterproductive policies. Therefore, it is fair to assume that the war on nicotine will have the same results. Restricting or even banning nicotine for adults will boost black market activities and simultaneously increase the consummation of already banned products.

Authors

Maria Chaplia

Maria Chaplia

Research Manager
Consumer Choice Center
Michael Landl

Michael Landl

Director
World Vapers' Alliance
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