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So…is nicotine really good for you?

December 2013

From the desk of John Dicey, Worldwide Managing Director & Senior Facilitator, Allen Carr’s Easyway

It was my privilege and honour to work with Allen Carr for the best part of a decade and over the past 15 years play a part in the global spread of his incredible quit smoking method. During those years I’ve become relatively immune from the shock and outrage that many people experience when they first learn of the misinformation and (let’s tell it how it is) the downright lies told by the tobacco industry over the years.

An industry steeped in a shabby history of cynical (and it’s pretty hard to see it as anything other than murderous) untruth and the suppression of clinical research might have been expected to set its house in order as a result of the shame and ridicule that followed the lies told under oath to the US Congress in 1994 by the assorted Presidents, CEOs, and Chairmen of Big Tobacco. Shameless.

News this week that a scientist employed by British American Tobacco, David O’Reilly, claims that nicotine is good for your health, have left even a hardened, wizened, old ‘Big-Tobacco-watcher’ like me speechless…almost.

This isn’t a claim from some shady backstreet pedlar of the latest e-cig vaping devices and liquids imported illegally from the back of beyond – but from a representative of the company that makes Benson & Hedges, Dunhill, and Lucky Strike cigarettes. These are brands that are as respectable and trusted as it’s possible to be when 50% of the customers who ‘enjoy’ their ‘brand-user experience’ happen to also, rather inconveniently, experience a slow, painful, premature death.

As a molecular biologist David O’Reilly surely cannot be described as a stupid man. British American Tobacco is certainly not staffed by entirely stupid people. Quite the reverse in fact. The tobacco industry spends big on the talent it hires. Whether in the marketing, research and development, or legal departments they want, and can afford, top talent.

So what sort of person might these kinds of people be? When posing that question to myself I was inspired to make a quick (and obviously unrelated) search on Google for “acts of unbelievable evil” and failed to come up with anything worthy of compare. Prolific serial killers, mass-murdering tyrants, and ethnic-cleansing despots pretty much have a monopoly on evil. Yet the simple fact that they are criminally insane, demented, and certifiably psychopathic is strangely reassuring. It doesn’t excuse what they have done of course – it just seems to help us make some kind of sense of it – even if the ultimate conclusion is that there simply is no sense in it at all.

I recently very much enjoyed reading John Ronson’s, The Psychopath Test, in which he points out that within the general population, only 1% of people are psychopaths, meaning that they are so deficient in empathy and conscience that they pose a serious threat to others. In prison the percentage rises (unsurprisingly I suppose) to about 25%. It occurs to me that John Ronson’s most thought provoking observation might help me make sense of the Group Scientific director for British American Tobacco’s comments regarding nicotine being “good for you”. Ronson points out that the higher up the professional ladder you go, the higher the percentage of psychopaths. Apparently at the upper levels of business nearly 4% score “extremely high” on the official “Psychopath Test.” Ronson reassures readers who occupy places at the boardroom table, who experience concern that they themselves might be the psychopaths of which he writes, that anyone experiencing that concern, by simple definition, eliminates themselves from the running. Psychopaths simply don’t ‘do’ self-doubt and concern. Phew!

Of course it’s not just the scientist in question who is responsible for this dangerous nonsense but a whole host of executive decision makers at British American Tobacco. One can only wonder if, having seen the banking industry get away with daylight robbery on a massive scale and in a truly psychopathic style, they might have become inspired to flex and exercise their own psychopathy in their own special way. Aren’t they beginning to say pretty much whatever they like with apparently scant regard for whether it is responsible, reasonable, relevant, or perhaps even particularly true or not?

I believe it was one of the most infamous psychopaths of all time who once said “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.

Perhaps you feel I am being rather over dramatic – yet how else might you view a strategy designed to inspire and encourage the uptake and continued use of a highly addictive, poisonous drug that is responsible for millions of deaths worldwide every single year – killing one in two of its users 10, 20, or 30 years before their time? Let alone the poverty and suffering visited upon the addicts and their families. What kind of person do you think might spring out of bed in the morning, inspired, dedicated, and highly motivated to be on that particular professional mission?

John Ronson isn’t the only author and observer of corporate behaviour to suggest that perhaps some corporations and indeed some entire industries might have established a science of spotting psychopaths as part of their recruiting mechanism. Lest you misunderstand – the idea isn’t to weed them out and reject them but to seek them out and appoint them! Can there be any other rational explanation for the actions and behaviour of these kind of individuals and corporations?

What can we expect next? Coca Cola wheeling out experts on food & nutrition claiming that “Coke is a health tonic”, a healthy eating expert in the employ of McDonald’s claiming that the Big Mac truly represents the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast, or maybe even the petroleum companies employing scientific experts to tell us that fumes from the internal combustion engine actually have a positive effect on the quality of the air that we breathe?

And while the tobacco industry delivers it’s particular brand of poison – what is the scientific and medical establishment doing about it? From the luxury of their government and taxpayer funded positions they’ve strutted and postured for years under the notion that they had Big Tobacco on the run. To an extent – they did – they certainly had them on the ropes. But as soon as they began pursuing a policy of harm reduction they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Harm reduction was born out of a failure to convince or help around 20% of the population to quit smoking. The medical and scientific establishment who, let’s not forget, created, drove, and developed the strategy that failed to convince or help those 20% of the population to quit, decided it might be preferable to ‘park’ those smokers on nicotine for the long-term (probably for life). The thinking being that they should be encouraged to take nicotine in a ‘safer’ form rather than to smoke it. E-cigarettes seemed to fit the bill perfectly. This policy breathed life into an industry that might otherwise have been stubbed out within a generation. It was a policy inspired by the kind of arrogance, apathy, stupidity, and downright lack of vision of an athlete so intent on enjoying the crowning glory of his final lap that he fails to notice the lean, determined, desperate, and thoroughly ruthless shadowy figure behind him set to push past and beat him to the finishing tape with barely an inch to spare.

With a strategy of harm reduction they declared, not an end to nicotine addiction and the havoc it wreaks, but the start of a whole new nicotine gold rush with Big Pharma all set to battle with Big Tobacco to claim their share of the nicotine addicted market. Big Tobacco seem all set to inhale the start-up e-cigarette companies that have been the stalking horses (or should that be Trojan horses) of the new age of nicotine. There’s little evidence in existence relating to the long term effects of nicotine imbibed, for example, via e-cigarettes but you can bet your bottom dollar – when it comes it’s not going to be good news for the industry or, more importantly, the users. Certainly preliminary results indicate as much.

Did the medical and scientific establishment really never envisage that of primary concern to anyone involved in the nicotine industry, whether on the side of Big Pharma or Big Tobacco, would be ensuring the recruitment of new addicts? Subsequently a whole generation of youngsters are seeing the kind of adverts for ‘vaping’ designed to attract them, and have them drawn into a lifetime chain of addiction (and to be honest they’re pretty much indistinguishable from those old adverts for cigarettes from pre-advertising ban days). Buy e-cigarettes – they’re sexy. Buy e-cigarettes – they’re cool. Buy e-cigarettes – they’re exciting. In one giant leap backwards nicotine is now being sold in a way that even the alcohol and beauty industries can only dream of.

One of the most outspoken advocates of harm reduction said in response to O’Reilly’s comments that one hit of nicotine can have positive effects on the brain. He went on to warn that the drug is highly addictive, leaving users needing to get their hit to enable their brains to function normally. In short then he seems to be saying that if you take just one shot of this highly addictive drug (after which you will almost certainly become addicted) then that first, initial dose might somehow provide some kind of benefit, perhaps in concentration (I’d dispute even that flimsy suggestion). A slap around the face might stimulate you and somehow therefore facilitate a period of heightened concentration – yet as undesirable as it is – it isn’t addictive, it’s freely available, and it won’t kill you. So – surely even if the benefit claim of one shot of nicotine were true it has to be lower in the pecking order than even a simple slap around the chops! And let me repeat that caveat about the ‘benefit of nicotine’ being perhaps derived from just one shot, and one shot only, of the highly addictive drug…one shot, and one shot only of which, is likely to addict you for life.

I can only assume that the architects of the harm reduction policy must be viewing the opening movements of this new nicotine age with the uncomfortable feeling that they may just have let a psychopathic nicotine genie back out of the bottle.

Allen Carr’s Easyway To Quit Smoking method is the cure for all nicotine addiction. Whether addicts are hooked on cigarettes, cigars, pipes, e-cigs, or nicotine patches and gum, Allen Carr’s Easyway can set them free.

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