by Chris Holmes
Let me explain why the nicotine story is the biggest case of mistaken identity in medical history:
The early promotion of tobacco in Western Europe was based on two simple things: belief in medicinal properties it doesn’t really have, and the age-old phenomenon of people copying one another and trying to make an impression, otherwise known as ‘fashion’.
The tobacco plant’s Latin name is Nicotiana Tabacum, named after the French Ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain. In 1560 he was sending tobacco and tobacco seeds to Paris from Brazil, and promoting their medicinal use – mistakenly, as we now know. At the time, lots of plants were reckoned to be beneficial to health and according to a book published by Spanish physician Nicolas Monardes in 1571, tobacco was widely credited with curing 36 ailments including toothache, worms, lockjaw and cancer.
So originally, tobacco was supposed to be good for you. Gradually, over the years everyone realised that it did not cure worms, lockjaw or anything else – in fact it was just a filthy habit. No-one imagined or suggested at the time that this was recreational drug use or intoxicating in any way, because it obviously isn’t. That is why, even today, people are allowed to smoke tobacco and then drive cars or operate heavy machinery – even pilot an aircraft. If smoking tobacco was recreational drug use, would that be permitted? Of course not!
When any individual first tries smoking, it is because they want to sample something they have not been permitted to try before. As a smoking cessation specialist, I have asked thousands of smokers why they picked up a cigarette in the first place, and the answers are predictable:
because my mates were doing it
because I wasn’t allowed to
because I thought it was cool
because I wanted to be all grown up…
In twelve years, no smoker has ever said to me: “I started smoking for the effects of nicotine.” Not one. But most of them can easily recall what that first experience of tobacco was like:
it was revolting
it made me feel dizzy and sick
I felt faint, had heart palpitations and then threw up…
All very common experiences. So, whatever it was that made us pick up the second cigarette, it wasn’t because we enjoyed the experience of smoking the first one. It was the same thing that made us pick up the first one: mischief, rebellion, peer pressure, a rite of passage, trying to grow up quick – any of those. The fact is, we weren’t doing it for the effects of nicotine, AND WE KNEW THAT, THEN. Curiosity, a bit of devilment… but we were also doing it for appearances, how we imagined it made us look: older, tougher, cooler, less like a kid.
It was only later that we came to believe it was all about nicotine, because we were TOLD to believe that. But believing that is no different from believing that it cures worms or lockjaw, isn’t it? That misinformation also came from Doctors.
Smokers are told that their cravings are a result of the nicotine receptors in their brains “going crazy for nicotine” as the nicotine replacement advert puts it. [Hint: those guys are trying to sell you nicotine!] But nearly all smokers will have noticed that their cravings switch on and off automatically, depending upon what they are doing. They switch on in the morning having been off all night long, they switch off when the smoker boards a bus or a train, back on when a smoking opportunity arises then off again when they walk into a hospital or a cinema.
A small number of smokers struggle with these everyday restrictions, but that is only because they have personally chosen to resent the restriction. The vast majority of smokers accept the new restriction pretty quickly, and then after that it doesn’t bother them. Most smokers tell me that they can manage journeys by aircraft surprisingly easily, but then immediately add: “But as soon as it gets near the time to land, I’m thinking of having a cigarette…” Nevertheless they are puzzled as to why their “nicotine receptors” seemed to be remarkably well-behaved for most of the seven hours on the flight!
Question: how could the nicotine receptors in your brain possibly know that you just stepped on to an aircraft?
Answer: they don’t, and they would have no way of understanding that social restriction anyway. So why aren’t they “going crazy” right throughout the flight, Doc?
From this, it is obvious to any clear-thinking individual that there is AN OBSERVANT INTELLIGENCE governing the switching on and off of craving signals, which is also why they don’t pester you whilst you’re busy at work, playing sports or gardening. That observant intelligence is called the Subconscious Mind, and it controls all habitual behaviour and the craving system, which is basically a reminder system. It has nothing to do with tobacco or nicotine specifically: we get lots of cravings, they’re not all about tobacco.
Why Nicotine is Not a Drug
So we can see that cravings are not related to falling nicotine levels, or else air travel would drive all smokers to distraction and none of them could sit through a movie.
Now, there are only two types of drug: medicinal drugs and recreational drugs. Tobacco was supposed to be medicinal originally, but now we know it’s not, and so tobacco is not prescribed for any medical condition anywhere in the world, not ever. Nor do tobacco companies claim that it has any beneficial or medicinal effects. If it did, and that could be proven scientifically, you could bet your life they would use that in their marketing. The fact that tobacco contains nicotine does not make it any more beneficial to health: tobacco is not a medicinal product, in fact the modern medical consensus is that tobacco is bad for you, and smokers are routinely advised by medical personnel to stop smoking it.
We all found out that tobacco has no recreational use the first time we ever tried it, and the fact that a smoker can lean on his car smoking tobacco, keys in hand, chatting to an officer of the law, then freely get in and drive away legally proves that no-one is suggesting that he or she is getting high on that. In fact throughout the entire history of tobacco consumption in Europe over the last 400 years, no-one has ever suggested that it is a form of recreational drug use. When you see office workers standing around outside the office building on a smoking break, they’re not “getting high”, are they? Everybody knows that. When they go back in, no-one says: “Forget asking George to do anything complicated for the next half hour, he’s just been smoking tobacco!” Smokers would be unemployable if tobacco got you stoned or wired, and they certainly wouldn’t be entrusted with heavy goods vehicles, coaches or buses.
No medicinal use, no recreational use.
But what does nicotine actually DO?
First of all, nicotine is only one of thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke. When it was first isolated from the tobacco plant in 1828, it was regarded by the team that did that as a poison, not a drug. This was perfectly reasonable because this alkaloid acts as a natural insecticide – it kills the bugs that try to eat tobacco leaves. Once isolated it was widely used as an insecticide, and even now nicotine analogs such as imidacloprid continue to be widely used. Why “nicotine” should have been named after the plant itself is unclear: no-one was suggesting at that point that this particular poison was the key to tobacco’s popularity or the thing that smokers were after. And indeed it wasn’t, but about 115 years later, someone would start vehemently insisting that it was. That someone was Doctor Lennox Johnston, and he was a real lone voice: his suggestion that tobacco smoking was actually a drug addiction was regarded as nonsense by medical authority and the wider profession alike.
Over the last twelve years, I have asked thousands of smokers: “What does nicotine do? If it IS a drug, and you are smoking tobacco for the effects of this drug, what ARE those effects?” Not one smoker has ever answered that question correctly. “I think it relaxes me” is the most common guess. In fact, nicotine makes the heart race, blood pressure rise, blood fat levels rise and there is an increased risk of thrombosis (blood clots). All those effects are toxic, hazardous and largely unnoticeable, but if the first two reached noticeable levels they would be uncomfortable. If the last one reached a noticeable level, you would be dead or on your way to a hospital. In short, no-one is smoking for the effects of nicotine, which is why smokers cannot tell me what the effects of nicotine are.
But then we never were smoking for the effects of nicotine right from the beginning. In fact back then, the effects of nicotine knocked us sick, as did many other chemicals in the smoke.
Lennox Johnston was WRONG!
Smokers smoke because of cravings – that’s true – but cravings are nothing to do with nicotine, or anything else in the smoke. Before Lennox Johnston came along, no-one ever thought they were. I first realised that this was a fact when I started doing hypnotherapy and found that cravings can be shut down by the Subconscious mind upon request, provided the smoker is happy for that to be the outcome. Then I wrote the book Nicotine: The Drug That Never Was in order to explain all the details and how we use hypnotherapy to eliminate the smoking habit, cravings and all. Since then, a study from Tel Aviv University has confirmed what I stated about cravings being unrelated to nicotine levels and another from Harvard University has confirmed that Nicotine Replacement products don’t work at all, just as I have argued for years.
I wonder how long it will be before Science confirms my third and final point: that nicotine isn’t a drug at all.
Cue the links to exciting new studies suggesting that nicotine may help with…
Yeah, we know. For years now, the drug giants that make nicotine replacement products have been desperately searching for some new application for the poison gum and the poison patches. They know the game is almost up, and that soon everyone will realise that those products are based on a myth. But the poison factory is already there, and it would seem a shame to lose all that revenue…