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Taking a broader view of nicotine addiction

a/Science & Technology by

Over the past 20 years, scientists have completed hundreds of studies on the adverse effects of nicotine consumption—especially from cigarette usage. However, the progress made in lowering the fatalities and costs from the drug has been disappointing, given the amount of money put into these studies.

Approximately 37,000 deaths and $4.4 billion in hospital fees occur annually as a result of nicotine usage, according to Health Canada. Perhaps new angles on this research should be taken if progress is to be made towards cutting the drug’s expensive social and economic costs.

Current studies of nicotine use demonstrate weak conclusions: nicotine increases incidents of heart disease, lung problems, addiction, and cancer. Others study the genetics and psychology behind why some people are more addicted to it than others.

Researchers have designed products like nicotine patches to help smokers quit, but again statistics show poor results. According to a 2002 study in the peer-reviewed journal Addiction which followed over 5,000 smokers, fewer than 10 per cent of people were still smoke-free after six months of using the patch. Despite extensive research and many products available to prevent smoking, little progress has been made in helping smokers kick their habit.

One of the fundamental processes in science is analyzing situations objectively.  Perhaps, it is time to approach nicotine research from a new angle, and examine the possible benefits to be gained from smoking, or chewing tobacco. This new perspective does not mean that nicotine should be used to improve people’s health. However, researchers could gain more insight into what drives the addiction and find possible nicotine substitutions with fewer health side effects.

Researchers, such as Joseph McClernon and his team at Duke University, have identified nicotine’s therapeutic effects in their studies. In one project, they randomly assigned nicotine or placebo patches to 11 non-smokers who exhibited depression. After eight days with the patches, the researchers analyzed participants, by a standardized method used to measure depression. Results showed that nicotine has the potential to improve mood, or temporarily relieve symptoms of depression.

McClernon’s study gives reason to believe that cigarettes help relieve anxiety. Meanwhile, other research reveals the dangers in stress-related illnesses.  It could be interesting to compare the positive and negative effects of smoking to reduce anxiety in the long term. Would those who smoke to relieve stress live longer than those who succumb to constant anxiety? Could nicotine be helping people to an extent, and could this, in turn, be a major cause of dependence?

The results could potentially uncover a strong correlation with other studies on the harms and benefits of anti-anxiety drugs.  Some pharmacies have already begun to work on new depression medications based on nicotine’s stress-relieving properties—eliminating the dependence it causes.

Logically, finding the benefits of smoking would also lead to finding the most effective method to quit smoking. If scientists uncover the reasons to smoke, they could mimic them in a placebo that satiates an addict’s cravings. Because nicotine patches have such low success rates, there must be other benefits than just nicotine in the bloodstream.

To uncover these benefits, scientists need to look beyond the negative effects that people suffer from smoking or chewing.

Though this type of study would be controversial to the current anti-nicotine movement, it could open new doors for understanding what drives people to begin and continue smoking. The new angle would allow scientists to see nicotine from the perspective of an addict.

Most of society is well enough informed to know the dangers of smoking, so the benefits driving people to smoke must be outweigh the risks in their conscious or unconscious minds. Instead of repeated studies on the various carcinogens in cigarettes, researchers should invest their time discovering what people gain from the habit.