From recent news reports, it has come to our attention that smoking is a vice that “leaders” around the world are determined to stamp out. But why? The official story is that our ever benevolent governments wish to prevent “we the people” from damaging our health, and that of others (if you believe the “second hand smoke” fable. Those of a more cynical disposition claim that the truth has more to do government aims of cutting back on public health expenditure for preventable diseases like lung cancer.
Yet this explanation is relevant only for those fewcountries where public health care is free and is also contingent on the, as yet, missing evidence that smoking really is the number one cause of cancer, rather than the many other pollutants that we all inhale every day.
Given what we know of the contempt in which The Powers That Be hold most of humanity, and the lack of convincing evidence that even moderate smoking really is a risk to public health, we are forced to look for another reason for the increasingly world-wide witch hunt on smoking and smokers.
First of all, lets take a look at the evidence for the fact that smoking has recently become public enemy number one:
By Stephanie Nebehay
February 27, 2005
Geneva – A global treaty aimed at dissuading children from smoking and helping adults kick the habit came into force on Sunday with the United Nations saying it could save millions of lives.
The World Health Organization (WHO) applauded the strong warnings on cigarette packages and the eventual ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship laid down in the world’s first international public health treaty.
“It’s entry into force is a demonstration of governments’ commitment to reduce death and illness from tobacco use,” said WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook in a statement to mark the event.
Tobacco, the second leading cause of preventable deaths globally after hypertension, kills 4.9 million people a year, the U.N. agency says.
And the annual death toll from tobacco-related diseases — lung cancer, heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases — could soar to 10 million by 2020, with 70 percent of the deaths in developing countries, it adds.
The treaty, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, gives members three years to slap strong health warnings on tobacco packages and five years to ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
It also recommends tax increases on tobacco products, a crackdown on smuggling, and reducing exposure to second-hand smoke.
Approved by the WHO’s 192 member states in May 2003, the pact became law on Sunday, 90 days after the 40th state had ratified it.
It will only carry legal weight in those countries which have ratified it, now numbering 57. In total, 167 countries have signed the pact — but have not necessarily sent it to parliament for ratification.
WHO officials and activists say the powerful tobacco industry is lobbying intensively to restrict the number of countries applying the treaty, including the United States which has signed up but not yet sent it to the Senate.
“The tobacco industry wants to be free to sell and market their deadly products in such a way that they have more and more profits. This is the only language the tobacco industry knows,” Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, director of the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, told journalists.
“In Brazil, my country, the tobacco industry is furiously lobbying the Congress and the Senate in order not to get the treaty ratified. They are using the tobacco farmers to make the case, saying that they will lose their jobs.”
Activists accuse the Bush administration, which signed the pact last May, of having worked hard to dilute it.
“U.S. ratification of the treaty would send a strong message to the rest of the world that we will not support these efforts and instead put protection of public health ahead of tobacco industry interests,” the U.S. -based Tobacco Free Kids lobby group said.
Douglas Bettcher, treaty coordinator, was upbeat. “We are happy to report that industry is not winning this game.”
Some of the largest tobacco growers — India, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand and Turkey — as well as cigarette producing countries such as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey are among those which ratified have the treaty, he said.
The Bush administration may be working hard to dilute the anti-smoking pact, but the US remains one of the least smoker-friendly countries. Americans who visit certain European countries would be shocked at the freedom smokers have to puff where they please.
24 February 2005
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has issued a ban on smoking in all public places. Coming just two months after a ban on the sale of tobacco products, the new law means that Bhutan now has the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world. The irony is that, even as smoking bans are becoming fashionable in the liberal West, it is an absolute monarchy with a reputation for human rights abuses that is leading the way.
The new law bans smoking in “all places where people gather”. It specifically mentions parks, nightclubs, football grounds, shops, bars, restaurants, government offices and even vegetable markets. There will be no areas exempt from the ban after the law by the governing Council of Ministers comes into effect. [...]
Bhutanese smokers have been protesting against the ban, which they say is a gross infringement of their personal rights. They are particularly incensed that proposals to allow strictly controlled smoking areas were rejected in favour of a blanket ban. Now the only legal way to smoke in Bhutan is to travel outside the country and bring your own cigarettes in, and then smoke them inside your own home. [...]
Once again, governments fail to understand that the very things they make illegal become the thing of greatest value. Didn’t we learn anything from Prohibition?
“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren’t enough criminals, one MAKES them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. … Create a nation of law-breakers, and then you cash in on the guilt.”
- Ayn Rand “Atlas Shrugged”
The following smoking articles are a small collection we have created over the past few years:
New York, March 30, 2003
(AP) In a smoke-choked Manhattan tavern, Cynthia Candiotti asked a neighbor for a light and took a deep drag on her cigarette, savoring a last barstool puff before the city outlawed smoking in bars and nightclubs.
March 28, 2004
Ireland is set to ban smoking in the country’s pubs as of midnight Sunday. The move to ban smoking in Irish pubs is being viewed as a test case for the rest of Europe.
By Matt Prodger, BBC, Monday 2 August, 2004
The parliament in Montenegro, which has one of the highest rates of smoking in Europe, has passed a law banning smoking in public places.
Thursday August 12, 2004
Plans to ban smoking in all closed public areas, including bars and offices, in Portugal could be in place by October, after parliament agreed to consider new proposals aimed at protecting passive smokers.
The move follows a petition presented by the Humanitarian Union of Patients with Cancer (UHDC) in April. The Commission for Work and Social Affairs analysed the UHDC recommendations and concluded that “existing legislation in Portugal is insufficient from the point of view of protecting non-smokers – it fails to recognise their rights, with grave consequences for their health.”
Hélène Mulholland, Friday August 13, 2004
London council leaders may seek powers from Westminster to ban smoking in the capital, it emerged today.
The move to ban smoking in public places in the capital is one of several ideas being mooted by the Association of London Government (ALG) before a private parliamentary bill is drawn up this autumn.
Brian Ferguson, City Council Reporter, Thursday 12 Aug, 2004
Eedinburgh’s Lord Provost today threw her weight behind demands for a nationwide ban on smoking in all public places.
Lesley Hinds, head of Scotland’s national health promotions agency and the Capital’s civic leader, called on the Scottish Executive to take the “brave” decision to introduce legislation as soon as possible.
Omaha (AP) – Having Nebraska’s largest cities discuss bans on smoking in restaurants, bars and other workplaces could pave the way to a statewide ban, some activists say.
“All states ultimately will go smoke free,” said Dave Holmquist, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society in Nebraska.
Washington – A Virginia mother has been sentenced to 10 days in jail for defying a court order not to smoke in front of her children.
Tamara Silvius, 44, who has said she smokes about a packet of cigarettes a day, was led from a Caroline county courtroom in handcuffs on Thursday but the judge later allowed her to post a US$500 (S$850) bond to stay out of jail while she appeals against the ruling. Advertisement
‘It should never have come to this,’ Ms Silvius said in a telephone interview after spending four hours in jail before being released.
‘I hope and pray my two little kids don’t think they had their mama sent to jail.’
The sentence is the latest development in a long-running custody battle between Ms Silvius and her ex-husband Steven over their children, aged 10 and eight, but the restriction on smoking, especially in this tobacco-friendly state, has captured far greater attention.
Ms Silvius’ lawyer said: ‘It is within the court’s powers to jail somebody for criminal contempt but…I’ve never heard of a case where you restrict behaviour this way.’
Her ex-husband’s lawyer, Mr Mark Murphy, said the measure was necessary to protect the health of the children, who live with their father and often visit their mother on weekends. The Silviuses have joint custody.
Of course, the question in all of this is “why now”? Interestingly, around the same time a ban on smoking was being discussed in many countries, other information was coming to light that tells a very different story about nicotine and the most effective and accessible way of infusing it into the brain: smoking.
Scientists have known for some time that smoking seemed to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s but they haven’t known how.
A new study reveals the active agent is a by-product of nicotine itself, nornicotine.
Published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study’s authors, Kim Janda and Tobin Dickerson of the Scripps Research Institute, say the known toxicity of smoking means using cigarettes as a fix isn’t on and that further research is necessary to produce a non-toxic mime of the nicotine/nornicotine effect.
Heritable factors produce about one-third of Alzheimer’s cases. About 20 per cent of the population, for example, carries a gene known as Apoe 4, which puts them at greater risk of developing the affliction and doing so earlier in life. But the balance of Alzheimer’s seems to be down to environmental factors and risk is accelerated by side-effects of the aging process.
High among those biological inevitabilities is a stiffening of the blood vessels in the brain, a process accelerated by high blood pressure. Stiffening in these vessels reduces the amount of oxygen that passes to brain cells, making them less efficient and eventually causing them to die.
Graves’ pooled reanalysis found, “A statistically significant inverse relation between smoking and Alzheimer’s disease was observed at all levels of analysis, with a trend towards decreasing risk with increasing consumption . A propensity towards a stronger inverse relation was observed among patients with a positive family history of dementia.”
Only three studies have ever linked smoking with AD. The reanalysis, in which the author of one participated, noted, “Since veterans may be expected to smoke more than the general population, and since smokers have been found to respond less frequently to questionnaires than non-smokers, the positive result observed for this study may be spurious.”
Over 4 million people suffer from AD, and annual costs are over $88 billion. There may be 73,000 excess cases per year among non-smokers, with $17.5 billion in excess costs.
Independent News UK, 22 February 2000
Nicotine, the scourge of 20th-century medicine, might actually benefit people suffering from debilitating brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, according to new scientific studies of the drug.
Independent.co.uk, August 05, 2003
We all know that smoking endangers our health. But has nicotine’s image problem led scientists to overlook the drug’s potential health benefits? Geoff Watts investigates
Light a cigarette and inhale lungfuls of smoke. Good for you? Hardly. But spend time with people suffering from schizophrenia or other forms of severe mental illness, and you’ll find many of them going at it like chimneys. Why? Poor judgement about the consequences, perhaps. Or the need for anything to soothe their distress. But there’s a third possibility that is much more intriguing. For them, and others with psychiatric and even physical illnesses, smoking amounts to an oddly neglected form of self-medication.
Of course, tobacco smoke – an airborne cocktail of nasty chemicals – is harmful. What’s at issue is a single non-carcinogenic ingredient: nicotine. This already has one medically approved application: taken by mouth in the form of gum, or through the skin from an impregnated patch, would-be ex-smokers aim to absorb a dose sufficient to dampen their cravings. And for many trying to kick the habit, particularly when used as part of a complete programme, it works. But though we hear occasional whisperings of other possible benefits of nicotine, they never seem to get taken seriously.
In ulcerative colitis, for example, the symptoms – pain in the lower abdomen, and diarrhoea – result from an inflammation of the colon and rectum. The cause of this inflammation still isn’t known, but it’s now 20 years since doctors first noticed that ulcerative colitis is found mainly among non-smokers. And intermittent smokers may find that their symptoms improve when they return to tobacco. Nicotine is the ingredient most likely to have the beneficial effect, and doctors have tested its effects using nicotine patches. Surprisingly, though, only a handful of properly controlled trials have been carried out, and medical advice seems to be to use patches only with caution. [...]
Schizophrenia, too, has attracted interest. Surveys have suggested that up to 90 per cent of people with the disorder smoke. There are at least two possible reasons: to calm the effects of the illness itself, or to mitigate those of some of the drugs used to control it. On this second point, there have been indications that nicotine can reverse the memory problems and slowness of thought induced by a commonly used medicine, haloperidol. But it does seem more likely that the urge to smoke is driven by its effects on the disease itself. One possibility is that nicotine suppresses inconsequential or distracting information coming into the brain. A radio playing in the next room may be irritating, but most of us learn to ignore it. People with schizophrenia find this much harder. Nicotine may help, but the evidence is mostly inferential. [...]
Attempts to use nicotine in Parkinson’s date back to the 1920s when one clinician injected it intravenously into a dozen patients. Although benefits were immediately apparent, little more happened for 50 years. Interest picked up again in the Eighties, but virtually all studies used small numbers of patients, and results were mixed. Even so, to quote Balfour and Fagerstrom, “the experience from these few cases, although mostly uncontrolled and preliminary… warrants further investigation”. For one thing, they say, nicotine may improve only certain symptoms, so may be more valuable to some patients than others.
Nicotine has also been tested in small studies on pain, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity and anxiety. In these disorders the evidence so far has been even more patchy. But serious research programmes have often been triggered by less impressive findings. So why the relative lack of interest in nicotine as a research topic with clinical payoffs?
The usual explanation is that nicotine, a natural material, cannot be patented. Few companies would be prepared to invest in testing it for disorders if, when it was licensed, anyone could make and sell it.Melatonin, thought to be good for jet lag, is similarly disadvantaged. The standard way round this is to jiggle about with the basic molecule in the hope of finding a new, patentable version that works as well or better. Some nicotine-like compounds have been tested, but with results no more conclusive than those from nicotine itself. [...]
So what is it about smoking, and nicotine in particular, that prevents or lessens the effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases among others? The answer, it seems it to be found in nicotine’s capacity to mimic the effects of a molecule found naturally in the body.
But before we delve into nicotine’s chemical properties and effects, we turn to an article that may seem at first to be a bit out of place given our present line of investigation:
Paul Turenne, Winnipeg Sun, February 21, 2005
Either aliens are visiting Manitoban airspace more frequently, or the smoking ban has forced people to spend more time staring at the sky. Whatever the reason, a report released yesterday by Ufology Research of Manitoba states that there were 112 UFO sightings in Manitoba last year, which more than doubles the previous record for sightings and is more than four times as many as in 2003.
In fact, the 882 sightings across the country last year also constituted a record, but UFO researchers are baffled as to why.
“It is puzzling. We know things are up all over Canada. In fact several provinces saw all-time records last year,” said Chris Rutkowski, the research co-ordinator for Ufology Research of Manitoba, a group of about a dozen people who compile UFO sighting statistics for all of Canada.
“We’re way past X-Files now and there aren’t a lot of UFO-type movies out there so we can’t blame media,” said Rutkowski. “It could be something as simple or obvious as there are more objects in the sky to be seen.”
Certainly the author of the above article did NOT intentionally associate the anti-smoking laws with aliens, but it just may be that there IS an association!
Consider first of all the fact that the “anti-smoking” campaign began in the United States, the same United States that thinks it is okay to lie about Weapons of Mass destruction in order to justify killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, the same United States that will not support the Kyoto Protocol to halt Global Warming that may kill billions of people. Has anyone ever wondered if the illnesses that are blamed on smoking might very well be caused by the pollution and toxins in our air, water, and food, and are blamed on smoking so as to maintain the commercial viability of the real causes, while at the same time, creating a nation of law-breakers so that the government can cash in on the guilt as Ayn Rand suggested?
But still, we think that there is MORE to the relationship between anti-smoking campaigns and alleged “aliens” – something sinister. The reader may wish to read our page on Diet and Health Related Questions as well as the Wave series by Laura Knight-Jadczyk from which the following has been extracted:
Now, nicotine is a most interesting drug. Nicotine mimics one of the body’s most significant neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. This is the neurotransmitter most often associated with cognition in the cerebral cortex. Acetylcholine is the primary carrier of thought and memory in the brain. It is essential to have appropriate levels of acetylcholine to have new memories or recall old memories.
I cruised the net for sources on acetylcholine and the results were positively amazing as you will see from the following excerpts:
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) is the acetyl ester of carnitine, the carrier of fatty acids across Mitochondrial membranes. Like carnitine, ALC is naturally produced in the body and found in small amounts in some foods. …Research in recent years has hoisted ALC from its somewhat mundane role in energy production to nutritional cognitive enhancer and neuroprotective agent extraordinaire. Indeed, taken in its entirety, ALC has become one of the premiere “anti-aging” compounds under scientific investigation, especially in relation to brain and nervous system deterioration.
ALC is found in various concentrations in the brain, and its levels are significantly reduced with aging.(1) In numerous studies in animal models, ALC administration has been shown to have the remarkable ability of improving not only cognitive changes, but also morphological (structural) and neurochemical changes. …ALC has varied effects on cholinergic activity, including promoting the release(2) and synthesis(3) of acetylcholine. Additionally, ALC promotes high affinity uptake of choline, which declines significantly with age.(4) While these cholinergic effects were first described almost a quarter of a century ago,(5) it now appears that this is only the tip of the ALC iceberg. [Gissen,VRP's Nutritional News, March, 1995]
It turns out that Alzheimer’s, a veritable epidemic in our country, is directly related to low levels of acetylcholine. In Alzheimer’s disease, the neurons that make acetylcholine degenerate, resulting in memory deficits. In some Alzheimer’s patients it can be a 90 per cent reduction! But, does anyone suggest smoking and exercising the brain as a possible cure?
Work in the Laboratory of Neurochemistry at the Barrow Neurological Institute principally concerns molecules critically involved in such signaling called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR). nAChR act throughout the brain and body as “molecular switches” to connect nerve cell circuits involved in essential functions ranging from vision and memory to the control of heart rate and muscle movement.
Defects in nAChR or their loss cause diseases such as myasthenia gravis and epilepsy and can contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and schizophrenia.
nAChR also happen to be the principal targets of tobacco nicotine. …nicotine-like medicines show promise in the treatment of diseases such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tourette’s syndrome and in alleviation of anxiety, pain, and depression, suggesting involvement of nAChR in those disorders.
…We have shown that numbers and function of diverse nAChR subtypes can be influenced by many biologically active substances, ranging from steroids to local anesthetics, and by agents acting on the extracellular matrix, the cytoskeleton, on second messenger signaling, and at the nucleus. We also have shown that chronic nicotine exposure induces numerical upregulation of many diverse nAChR subtypes via a post-transcriptional process that is dominated by effects on intracellular pools of receptors or their precursors.
Some current studies are testing our hypothesis that chronic nicotine exposure, as occurs with habitual use of tobacco products, disables nAChR and the nerve cell circuits they subserve, thereby contributing to long-lasting changes in brain and body function. [Lukas, 1999]
Now, notice in the above account how tricky they were when they said that nicotine …” That is jargon for “it increases the number of receptors” as well as the amount of acetylcholine. But, of course, the AMA wouldn’t let them get away with any of their work if they weren’t adding that they have a hypothesis that “habitual use of tobacco products… disables acetylcholine.” Never mind that in the beginning they are proposing it as a therapeutic drug for some of the very problems that have risen to almost epidemic numbers in the present time.
Let’s say it again: Research shows, however, that daily infusions of nicotine actually INCREASE the number of acetylcholine receptors by up to 40 %. Some researchers, such as the above, brush this finding off by saying “regardless, their function diminishes.” But that is not empirically observed. Most people who smoke find a “set point,” and once they have reached it, it does not take more and more and more to satisfy it.
How does nicotine act?
There are two major types (or classes) of acetylcholine receptors in the body, and they are commonly named by the other drugs which bind to them: nicotine and muscarine. Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) can bind muscarine as well as ACh, and they function to change the metabolism…
Acetylcholine acts on nicotine acetylcholine receptors to open a channel in the cell’s membrane. Opening such a channel allows certain types of ions (charged atoms) to flow into or out of the cell. …When ions flow, there is an electrical current, and the same is true in the nervous system. The flowing of ions, or the passing of current, can cause other things to happen, usually those “things” involve the opening of other types of channels and the passing of information from one neuron to another.
Nicotinic AChRs are found throughout the body, but they are most concentrated in the nervous system (the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the nerve cells in the body) and on the muscles of the body (in vertebrates).
We say that nicotine acts like ACh at the receptors to activate them, and both substances are called agonists. The opposite type of drug, something that binds to the receptors and does not allow them to be activated is called an antagonist.
…When a substance comes into the body that can interfere with ACh binding to muscle nAChRs, that chemical can cause death in a relatively short time (because you use muscles to do things like breathe). A class of chemicals in snake and other poisonous venoms, neurotoxins, do exactly that. If you are bitten by a krait or a cobra, for example, and enough venom gets into the blood, there will be enough of their neurotoxin in your body to shut down the diaphragm muscle expands your lungs. Without that muscle functioning, the person ceases to breathe and dies of asphyxiation.
One of the reasons we know so much about these receptors is precisely that–plants and people have used substances [acetylcholine antagonists] which cause paralysis and asphyxiation for a long time. Plants use them to prevent being eaten by herbivores. Animals use similar substances to paralyze their prey. At least one human neuromuscular disease is related to nAChRs, and that is myasthenia gravis…
So, as you can see, nAChRs are important to life. …All known nicotinic receptors do share some common features. They are composed of 5 protein subunits which assemble like barrel staves around a central pore. …When the ligand (ACh or nicotine) binds to the receptor, it causes the receptor complex to twist and open the pore in the center. [Pugh]
Now, … did you notice that it says that “animals use similar substances [acetylcholine antagonists or ANTI-nicotine] to paralyze their prey? We have to wonder about the oft reported conditions of paralysis associated with “alien interactions” and the almost rabid attack on smoking in our society. [...]
Alcohol is a great pretender and can fool at least four types of receptors. It blocks the acetylcholine receptors… However, unlike nicotine which also binds to the acetylcholine receptors, alcohol doesn’t do anything useful while there. It simply sits there and blocks the ability to think. It also acts like cocaine in that it blocks the dopamine reuptake, flooding the brain with “feeling good.” Alcohol stimulates the release of endorphins, thus resembling morphine and heroin to a greatly lessened extent, and it modifies and increases the efficiency of the seretonin receptors.
All that in one brew! Gee, it almost makes you want to go and have a few beers! [...]
It seems that the key to this is the fact that learning, hard thinking and pondering, requires that certain brain chemicals – usually acetylcholine – be squirted out at just the right place and in the right quantities. It is becoming clear that the molecules of memory are blind to the kind of memory – whether it is conscious or unconscious – that is occurring. What determines the quality of different kinds of memories is not the molecules that do the storing but the systems in which those molecules act. If they act in the hippocampus, the memories that get recorded are factual and accessible to our consciousness. If the chemicals are acting in the amygdala, they are emotional and mostly inaccessible to conscious awareness.
Working memory, or awareness, involves the frontal lobes of the brain just above and behind the eyebrows. This is what we use when we want to remember a new phone number just long enough to dial it, or to remember what we went to the kitchen for long enough to get it! It is also the place where many different kinds of information is held simultaneously while we are comparing one thing to another. We can have all kinds of things going on there at once. We can look at something, hold this image in working memory along with the memory of something that we have pulled out of long term memory which we wish to compare it to; sounds, smells, and even the ongoing physiological input from our system as we are considering this: does it make us feel peaceful, happy, sad, afraid? …
As it happens, the cortical connections to the amygdala are actually far greater in primates than in other animals. It seems that more balanced cortical pathways are the evolutionary trend. It is my opinion that we will develop them or perish. A more harmonious integration of emotion and thinking would allow us to both know our TRUE feelings, and why we have them, and to be able to use them more effectively.
It seems that this “working memory,” or “awareness,” is – if not consciousness itself – at least a window to it.
- Laura Knight-Jadczyk, You Take the High Road and I’ll Take the Low Road, from The Wave
Originally Published 2005_12_16