A survey of general practitioners in the UK and Sweden revealed that a sizable fraction of them wrongly believed that it s the nicotine in cigarette smoke that harms health. The online survey was undertaken by UK tobacco giant BAT, and they got responses from 100 British and 120 Swedish physicians. (The study itself is not yet available to non-subscribers of the journal, but can be found here: http://bit.ly/10NFSVF ).
An amazing 40 percent asserted that nicotine was the primary or second-most dangerous toxicant in cigarette smoke. They are wrong, however: in fact, it is the nicotine that is largely responsible for smoking s deadly addictive power, although the mixture of the alkaloid with numerous other tobacco smoke constituents enhances its hold on smokers. Nicotine in the doses obtained from cigarettes is not harmful per se; the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that kill over half of chronic smokers prematurely are in the volatile gas phase and, to some extent, in the solids (tar) also inhaled thousands of times over the course of decades.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross advises that this belief is not a mere gap in training of no major significance: The myth accepted by this large group of supposedly well-educated clinicians has the potential to be of major consequence in their ability to assist smokers in their often-desperate attempts to quit the deadly addiction. If they believe that nicotine is the deadly substance in smoke, they will be reluctant at best to advise smokers to use alternative, low-risk nicotine delivery systems to get them smoke-free. These include smokeless tobacco such as snus, and e-cigarettes. Hopefully, the doctors themselves and the medical educational authorities in Europe, as well as here, will become more cognizant of this problem and take measures to correct such mis-impressions, for the good of public health, especially for smokers.
Perhaps as part of that educational initiative, ACSH is about to publish our monograph on the subject of Nicotine and Health. Stay tuned!