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Chapter 11: The Truth About Nicotine

Something I find puzzling is how misunderstood nicotine is.  Some people say it is carcinogenic, some say it is unique to the tobacco plant, some say it is the reason why people smoke.  In actual fact, none of these points are true.  Nicotine is not carcinogenic, besides it being in foods like tomatoes, a food which many experts believes protects against cancer, it is also in products such as Nicorette – if it were carcinogenic, such products would not have been approved.  As I stated in chapter 2, nicotine is in no way unique to tobacco – it is present in a range of foods.  I will now show that nicotine is not the reason people choose, or continue, to smoke. 

Firstly, there is now a fair bit being said about ‘freebase nicotine’.  BUPA, a private healthcare organisation in the UK, states on its website

“Freebase nicotine is the term used to describe a potent form of nicotine that is rapidly absorbed by the lungs and brain, causing a faster "hit"Freebase nicotine is absorbed in a similar way to drugs such as crack cocaine. For this reason it is believed to be more addictive than normal nicotine.”


“According to new research from America, some cigarettes may be more addictive than others because they release more of a particularly potent form of nicotine, called freebase nicotine.”[1]

James Pankow, of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, is someone who believes freebase nicotine is the most dangerous additive in a cigarette.  He states that nicotine occurs naturally in tobacco plants in two ways, either an acid or a base, and that the acidic form is more stable and more concentrated whilst the basic form is known as “freebase” nicotine, and is more volatile.  Subsequently, when it is smoked it is absorbed quickly and then quickly reaches the brain.  Note how Pankow thinks freebase nicotine is an additive, because he then says that he and his researchers found the most freebase nicotine was in American Spirit – a brand of cigarettes that have no additives or chemicals whatsoever.  In fact, American Spirit are so intent on keeping smoking true to how the Indians used it that they only use 100% leaf, and no reconstituted sheet tobacco or stem either.  Apparently, though, American Spirit contains 35% freebase nicotine compared to 9.6% in Marlboros.

[1] http://www.bupa.co.uk/health_information/html/health_news/060803nicotine.html

This is just a chapter sample.  The full chapter is not available to read online