You may have recently come across news of a new study from the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK which states that nicotine is no more harmful to your health than caffeine.
For those interested, you can grab a copy of the report here. It was presented along with a news article on RSPH's website. You can find the page here.
You may notice that nowhere in the report does it actually state "nicotine is no more harmful to your health than caffeine" - this is the headline of the news article.
BUT - in what I must admit was a welcome surprise, the information in the report actually does back this statement up.
Imagine that - a halfway accurate headline. Who'd have thunked it?
Below you will find the two statements from the report and the news article used to come up with this assertion. And because this is a blog post, you will also find my rambling opinions regarding them, followed by some more general chit-chat about the report itself. So here goes.
Statement #1 (from the report):
"Evidence suggests that, when consumed in low concentrations, nicotine is not deleterious to health; it does not appear to be a direct carcinogen and, whilst its use can increase heart rate, is not associated with an increase in acute cardiovascular events amongst users (although it must not be used in pregnancy)" (Rsph.org.uk 2015).
Use increases heart rate... must not be used in pregnancy... sound familiar?
No pregnant women were caffeinated during the taking of this photo.
Caffeine does the same thing, and also happens to not be a direct carcinogen or associated with an increase in acute cardiovascular events.
Of course, the reality is far more intricate and complicated than this, but approximating the effects of nicotine and caffeine as at least similar is not too much of a stretch really.
Statement #2 (from the news article):
"Getting people onto nicotine rather than using tobacco would make a big difference to the public’s health – clearly there are issues in terms of having smokers addicted to nicotine, but this would move us on from having a serious and costly public health issue from smoking related [sic] disease to instead address the issue of addiction to a substance which in and of itself is not too dissimilar to caffeine addiction” (Rsph.org.uk 2015).
So here, being addicted to nicotine is stated as being "not too dissimilar" to being addicted to caffeine.
This is a thorny issue - is addiction to a substance in and of itself a bad thing; why is it acceptable to be addicted to some chemicals and not to others; you could argue we are "addicted" to food, air, warmth etc so where does this slippery slope end; on and on we could go. But - we won't.
The important distinction to make here is exactly what you are addicted to. If you smoke, you are addicted to nicotine, and if you habitually drink coffee, you are addicted to caffeine. But you can get caffeine without drinking coffee, just like you can get nicotine without smoking cigarettes. Because drinking a nice hot cup of coffee doesn't carry a plethora of associated ills and harms with it, caffeine addiction is not frowned upon in society. But smoking cigarettes does, and public attitude towards smoking has very much turned to the negative.
Pictured: a not-frowned-upon way of staying up all night
As it happens, I personally am addicted to both caffeine and nicotine. I can get both very conveniently at pretty much any supermarket, petrol station or convenience store. The withdrawals from both are equally unpleasant, and the relief from getting a fix equally instantaneous. However, one delivery system slightly warms me up for a few minutes and gives me bad breath, and the other delivery system slowly eats me alive from the inside out. Is, therefore, my nicotine addiction worse than my caffeine addiction? Or are we in logical fallacy land? ("argument from final consequences" for those playing at home).
Do not make me caffeine-deprived. You wouldn't like me when I'm caffeine-deprived.
I choose not to kick my caffeine habit because 1. I like the cognitive benefits caffeine confers and 2. I can get it in a non-harmful delivery system.
Can't I choose not to kick my nicotine habit because 1. I like the cognitive benefits nicotine confers and 2. I can now get it in a much less harmful delivery system?
Other things from the report
Key points of the report:
- Smoking kills an estimated 100,000 people in the UK each year. It is the leading cause of death in the UK and kills more people than the next five causes combined.
- Tobacco contains many harmful carcinogens and toxicants on top of nicotine, and it's these that are causing all the harm, not the nicotine itself.
- 90% of people surveyed in the UK still believe that nicotine in and of itself is harmful to health, but there is no evidence suggesting as much.
- There are much safer sources of nicotine available; why would any sane government that cares about the health of its constituency not use them to curtail smoking (interestingly, in the UK, the cost to public health from smoking-related illnesses outstrips tobacco revenue by a whopping £1 billion, and a 2014 University College London study estimated that for every one million UK smokers that move to e-cigarettes, 6,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year).
The best way we can protect our vaping interests is to arm ourselves with the evidence and be ready to lay it all out for anyone who asks us. The vaping battle is being waged in the arena of public opinion, so the more we can do to influence it, the better.
Rsph.org.uk, (2015). [online] Available at: http://www.rsph.org.uk/filemanager/root/site_assets/our_work/position_statements/rsph_smoking_positional_final.pdf [Accessed 20 Sep. 2015].