By Lou Maiellano.
Imagine a natural ingredient so promising and intriguing that it is being clinically evaluated to address a variety of illnesses and conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Tourette syndrome, ADHD, anger management and anxiety. Think about it, an ingredient that would address conditions that are expected to be the scourge of the 21st century.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2010 the cost of direct and indirect medical and caretaker resources for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia approached $210 billion. The association estimates that Alzheimer’s will cost the U.S. $20 trillion over the next 40 years.
Now, think about a treatment regimen that would include an ingredient that has shown significant promise in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s, suppressing its symptoms and managing its debilitating effects.
Think about similar treatment regimens for clinical depression, anxiety and for chronic pain. This sounds incredible doesn’t it? Yes, it is incredible. But, it’s also ironic, because the ingredient is nicotine and the source of the ingredient is tobacco, often referred to as the public health scourge of the 20th century.
In 2000, research scientists at Stanford University set out to prove that nicotine damages blood vessels. Much to their surprise they found just the opposite. Nicotine prompted the growth of new blood vessels. This finding has led to studies suggesting that nicotine could be instrumental in assisting diabetes patients, who all too often lose lower extremities to amputation—a result of poor blood circulation.
Today, however, the downside of this promising wonder ingredient is that the most efficient way to ingest nicotine is by inhaling the smoke of its burning source—tobacco. In other words, the dangers of the delivery system may very well outweigh the benefits of the ingredient that is being delivered. So, if we could separate the ingredient from the way it is most commonly delivered, we might be able to have a calm, rational discussion about why people consume tobacco and use nicotine. We are a long way from clinical results that demonstrate the positive attributes of tobacco and the nicotine it contains, but we can begin to have a more beneficial discussion about tobacco and nicotine in their many forms and formulations.
According to many well-meaning, and some not-so-well-meaning, groups all tobacco and nicotine use leads to cigarette smoking and inevitable illness and premature death. But, just as much, if not more, research suggests that alternative forms of tobacco—snus, dissolvables and alternative nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, lozenges and gums, are helping millions of users quit or significantly reduce cigarette consumption. Rather than leading to smoking, these alternatives are leading to declines in U.S. smoking rates as measured recently by manufacturers like Altria and Reynolds.
In time I expect that real, scientific evidence will begin to sway the argument and the vast benefits of nicotine will become apparent and accepted. But, in the meantime it’s essential to separate the tobacco/nicotine reality from the smoking issue. One of the ways we do this is by alerting the general public to the ongoing clinical studies and the potential for good that nicotine appears to have. It’s critical that we not allow the anti-smoking radicals to stain new forms of nicotine delivery with the same brush that they have painted smoking.
It’s clear that new battle lines are being drawn and the industry cannot afford to lose this battle. The industry needs to fight hard to separate tobacco and nicotine from smoking and push hard for an individual’s right to purchase and use nicotine-containing alternatives. It’s essential that this fight not be fought exclusively by large tobacco companies. Retailers and distributors need to join the fray and find a win. The stakes are too high to sit idly by.
Lou Maiellano spent more than 20 years in several operational positions with Sunoco, Mobil and Wawa and currently operates TobaccoToday (www.tobaccotoday.info), an interactive tobacco industry blog. He can be reached at (267) 229-3856 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.