When I was growing up, Nick O’Teen was a villain so heinous that even Superman struggled to contain him. Created by DC Comics in 1980 as part of the US Health Education Council’s anti-smoking campaign, Nick O’Teen was a vivid warning to impressionable young minds on the perils of tobacco. I never did take up smoking.
After such clear childhood messaging, it was something of a surprise to hear that e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine, are to be licensed as medicines in the UK from 2016. As medicines are generally understood to be products that improve or at least stabilise our health, one might take this to mean that e-cigarettes, and the nicotine within, are now considered good for you.
In fact, the rationale for licensing is not so positive. With e-cigarettes becoming more popular, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has become concerned at the poor quality, efficacy and safety of some brands. Licensing allows for tougher quality regulation.
Nevertheless, the move raises the question: will people be misled by one truth, that e-cigarettes are (from 2016) medicines, into forgetting another truth, that nicotine is a highly addictive substance that…?
That what? Is nicotine in fact bad for you?
Not at all, it seems. It’s the tar and various toxins in regular cigarettes that makes them so damaging, not the nicotine. E-cigarettes don’t contain these substances. Nicotine was only ever bad for smokers in the sense that it made them want to inhale more tar. Mr O’Teen was cruelly defamed. Indeed nicotine even has some health benefits, with possible applications in treatments and therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome.
So there’s one staggering truth: Nicotine is good for you (if you have certain medical conditions).
But the competing truth is still valid: Nicotine is bad for you (if you become addicted to it and so keep smoking regular cigarettes).
There’s a whole different debate to be had (with competing truths on both sides) as to whether nicotine (in promoting smoking) is good for the economy and the Treasury…