is conclusive: Tobacco increases work capacity
March, 2011: Original Danish
article from Klaus K blog: Forskere
er sikre: Tobak øger arbejdsevnen
By Niels Ipsen, environmental
biologist & Klaus Kjellerup, researcher
Nicotine improves human
Is the bad reputation
of smoking undeserved?
Professor: About time
the positive side of tobacco is emphasised
NEW ANALYSIS SUMMARY:
UPDATE OF 40 YEARS OF NICOTINE RESEARCH
|- According to public
health officials, tobacco has no benefits at all: "A harmful and unnecessary
product," says the WHO (World Health Organization), which has lobbied national
governments to combat tobacco use since 1975 (1).
The Danish anti-smoking lobby
wants a total ban on tobacco: "We can not see what tobacco contributes,"
said the Cancer Society. "A smoke-free society should not be an unreasonable
policy objective," they say in the Danish health directorate (2).
Since the 1960’s authorities
worldwide have focused exclusively on the health hazards of tobacco, and
thus given it a very negative image. Their many anti-smoking campaigns
may have made the world forget that tobacco use also has positive aspects.
But as we know, any issue always has at least two sides, and now the positive
effects of tobacco have resurfaced in the scientific literature:
- After 40 years of
scientific research on the effects of nicotine, researchers now say that
they have sound scientific proof that smoking and nicotine have a significant
positive effect on human brain performance.
The brain works better when
it gets nicotine - almost like an optimized computer. Nicotine is a "work-drug"
that enables its consumers to focus better and think faster. The brain
also becomes more enduring, especially in smokers: Nicotine experiments
show that smokers in prolonged working situations are able to maintain
concentration for many hours longer than non-smokers.
This seems like a paradox
considering the smoking bans imposed on workplaces in many countries -
but it is nonetheless the picture emerging from hundreds of scientific
studies of smoking and nicotine. It seems very unlikely that companies
would be able to stop smoking in workplaces with many smokers without experiencing
a decline in labor productivity.
Generally nicotine boosts
the brain to work 10-30% more efficiently in a number of areas. This is
especially true for smoking - but also true when using smokeless nicotine.
But at the same time, when smokers and nicotine users abstain, they experience
a perhaps equally great decline in the effect. This is called the "withdrawal
effect" - a nicotine craving, especially for smokers.
Thus the difference between
smoking and smoking abstinence is very pronounced for a smoker - a difference
of perhaps as much as 50%. And, according to the scientists, this answers
the question: Why do people smoke? The answer is simple: Because smoking
boosts their brain power.
speed and memory
|- In 2010 the
U.S. government published a groundbreaking meta-analysis, which summarizes
the last 40 years of knowledge about tobacco and nicotine effects on the
brain. The analysis was conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse,
headed by researcher Stephen Heishman: Meta-analysis of the acute effects
of nicotine and smoking on human performance. Abstract: (3)
- full text (4).
The results in Heishman's
analysis gives the clear impression that it could turn out to be a very
bad idea to try to "eradicate" tobacco. For nicotine has positive impacts
in the areas of motor skills, attention, focus, speed and memory - and
the effect is significant, the researchers say: The results are not due
to statistical chance.
Heishman's team examined
all 256 published non-medicinal nicotine tests carried out since 1994 when
they conducted a similar study. The tests measured both the effect of cigarettes
on smokers - and the effect of non-smoking nicotine on non-smokers.
- 48 of the best quality
trials were selected for the meta-analysis following strict scientific
criteria: They had to be placebo controlled - with nicotine-free patches
and nicotine-free cigarettes - and double blinded, so no subjects knew
whether they had received nicotine or not.
Furthermore only trials in
which none of the smokers were craving tobacco were used. Thus Heishman
excluded the risk that smokers may have performed unusually well because
of their relief from the withdrawal effect.
The analysis paints a picture
of nicotine as an effective and fast acting drug, which improves the brain's
performance in work situations - a genuine "work-drug". Unlike drugs such
as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and heroin, which are not useful during work.
So apart from the health
hazards of cigarettes, it seems the only drawback of nicotine is the addictive
effect, although this is still controversial among scientists, and should
not be confused with dependence on narcotics. And although pure nicotine
is poisonous in large doses, there is no evidence of health risks from
nicotine in the amounts in which it is consumed using tobacco.
|Why are many scientists,
athletes and artists
|- The positive effect
on the brain may explain why many of history's greatest scientists have
been avid smokers - for example Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, both of
whom praised the effect of tobacco on their scientific thinking.
Furthermore, it is known
that many athletes, creative people, stage performers, writers, musicians
and artists through time have been smokers. The nicotine in cigarettes
appears to have been particularly important for people who need to produce
something unique or competitive in their work.
- Top footballers, in particular,
have often surprised the media when it emerged that they were avid smokers,
while they were at the peak of their careers. For example, the puritanical
British media people couldn't imagine that a top player like Wayne Rooney
would be able to deliver top performances for his team, when they revealed
it as a scandal, that Rooney is a smoker (5).
- The truth is however,
that some of the world's most creative stars - like Zinedine Zidane, Diego
Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and many other players
from the highest levels of football - were avid smokers while they were
at the top of their careers - including the Danish 80's hero, Preben Elkjaer.
Cigarettes have also always
been an indispensable part of soldiers' field rations, and still are. A
war cannot be won without cigarettes, soldiers said (6)
- so in 2009 the Pentagon had to drop a proposal to ban smoking in the
U.S. Army after very strong protests from soldiers and veterans (7).
According to Stephen Heishman's
analysis, there is a very good reason why competitive people smoke. This
is because of the nicotine boost to the brain - nicotine helps them produce
The effects also suggest
an answer to the puzzle of why people start smoking and continue on a permanent
basis - and the proof comes paradoxically from the results of the effect
of nicotine on non-smokers, who also perform better when they get nicotine
gum. Heishman writes:
"... [The fact that] the
results are also found among non-smokers is an indirect evidence that nicotine
performance enhancing effects may be the reason why people start smoking."
faster and more
|The 48 experiments included
in Heishman's analysis consisted of several groups of volunteers who had
completed a series of standardized computer tests: One half received nicotine,
while control subjects received a placebo. With few exceptions, nicotine
users did better in all tests, whether they were smokers or non-smokers.
This was especially true in the areas of attention, precision, focus, memory
and speed - and to a lesser degree of motor skills:
Table 1 - from
Heishman and others: The table shows nine performance areas that had enough
data for the meta-analysis. Six areas showed significantly improved results
for nicotine users (red dots) - in three areas results were insignificant
The biggest improvements:
Short term memory, accuracy - working memory, response time - attention,
accuracy - attention, speed - orienting attention. Minor improvement: Fine
(k: number of experiments
- N: Number of subjects - Hedges's g: 0.1: Minor improvement. 0.3: Medium
improvement. 0.5: Big improvement.)
- The researchers
also found other areas where nicotine users had significantly better outcomes
- including gross motor skills, long-term memory, semantic memory, arithmetic
& complex calculations. But these experiments were not used in the
analysis because there are still too few experiments in these areas.
|Are smokers better
drivers and pilots?
|- This applies to
experiments demonstrating that smoking and nicotine have a significant
positive effect on one’s ability to drive a car (8)
and fly flight simulators (9).
Smokers and other nicotine users will score better in driving tests, both
in overview, focus and steering maneuvers - and they respond quicker on
the brakes, when required compared to non-nicotine users.
These experiments however
could not be standardized for the other trials in the analysis, so Heishman
calls for more standardized driving and flight tests with nicotine to get
an accurate picture of nicotine effects on motorists and pilots.
Stephen Heishman and the
research team conclude in the study:
"The significant effects
of nicotine on motor abilities, attention and memory, likely represent
true performance enhancement because they are not confounded by withdrawal
relief. The beneficial cognitive effects of nicotine have implications
for initiation of smoking and maintenance of tobacco dependence."
Put another way: Smokers
smoke and keep on smoking because their brains work better when they smoke.
This is probably also the reason that it is hard to quit smoking. And since
experimental animals in laboratories have shown similar results, there
is no longer any doubt among scientists:
Nicotine - the active substance
in the world's most unpopular plant - the tobacco plant - is paradoxically
a "wonder drug" that leads to better job performance. A gift for the working
- Tobacco Harm researcher
Professor Brad Rodu from Louisiana University says that Heishman's analysis
is a breakthrough in understanding tobacco and nicotine effects. In his
article "The Proven Positive Effects of Nicotine and Tobacco" (10)
on his blog, Tobacco Truth, he writes:
"This analysis will not
please anti-tobacco extremists. It’s time to be honest with the 50 million
Americans, and hundreds of millions around the world, who use tobacco.
The benefits they get from tobacco are very real, not imaginary or just
the periodic elimination of withdrawal."
Brad Rodu has spent many
years working in the branch of tobacco science known as Tobacco Harm Reduction.
He is a proponent of allowing all use of smokeless tobacco, for example
snus and chewing tobacco, which he believes is "almost 100% safer than
Rodu conducts his own research into the health effects of smokeless tobacco,
with funding from an annual "no strings attached" grant from the tobacco
industry to Louisiana University.
“It’s time to abandon
the myth that tobacco is devoid of benefits, and to focus on how we can
help smokers continue to derive those benefits with a safer delivery system,"
|- Other nicotine tests
show results that seriously question the idea of smoking bans in workplaces.
Several studies show that smokers' brains have more stamina in long work
situations compared to non-smokers, providing the smoker can smoke
while working. Smokers can maintain concentration for long hours without
getting tired, while non-smokers concentration quickly breaks down.
This phenomenon was brought
to US public attention in 1976 when environmental activist Ralph Nader
suggested in a TV program that pilots should be prohibited from smoking
on U.S. airplanes for safety reasons. Immediately after this proposal,
the news media received a warning from Dr. Norman Heimstra: "A bad idea,"
he wrote. (12)
Dr. Norman Heimstra had done
the world's first primitive nicotine experiments back in 1967 (13).
Three groups of people spent six hours in
a car simulator - smokers, non-smokers and "abstemious" smokers. Result:
The abstinent smokers fared worst in all tests - but the experiment also
showed that smokers fared best when the first three hours had passed. At
the same time the study revealed that smokers showed no aggressiveness
while driving and handled emergency situations better than the other two
"In a critical situation
the smoking pilot might well be the best pilot," Dr. Heimstra
wrote to the media.
"I would much rather climb
into an airplane piloted by a chain-smoker than one piloted by a smoker
deprived of cigarettes for a number of hours - not allowed to smoke during
flight," he ended his warning in 1976 - and subsequently the proposal
of a smoking ban among pilots was dropped.
Thirty years after
Heimstra's primitive experiments other tests have confirmed that nicotine
gives smokers' brains more stamina.
It is illustrated for example
in the trial, The effects of cigarette smoking on overnight performance
of Parkin & Hindmarch 1997, where smokers and nonsmokers were to do
five different computer tests from 8 o'clock in the evening to 12 hours
later. In all tests the non-smoker concentration levels broke down after
two hours - while smokers could maintain concentration until 4 o'clock
in the morning thanks to the nicotine in the cigarettes:
Figure 1 - Parkin &
Hindmarch, 1997: - Results from smokers and non-smokers in the test "Critical
Flicker Fusion"- used to measure attention: Non-smokers (lower line) became
inattentive at 10.00 pm, while smokers (top line) maintained their attention
level until 4.00 am even improving their baseline level at 10.00 pm. Not
until 8.00 in the morning did the smokers level drop to the non-smoker
level 10 hours earlier.
- For years scientists
have discussed the "withdrawal" effect in smokers - the phenomenon that
smokers themselves describe as "concentration difficulty" when they have
not smoked for several hours. In the anti-smoking lobby it is believed
that the phenomenon is a simple abstinence effect that smokers can lift
by smoking a cigarette again, and thereby return to the same level of performance
as "normal people".
But this theory no longer
holds true after the Heishman analysis. Nicotine in itself creates better
performance compared to placebo, whether smokers or non-smokers. But there
are scientists who do not believe that the "withdrawal" effect has been
One of them is nicotine researcher,
Professor David Warburton of Reading University, who in a double experiment
in 1994 first demonstrated that 100 "abstinent" smokers and 100 non-smokers
achieved similar results in three specific figures tests. In experiment
no. 2 he repeated the same three tests with only the smokers who were divided
into two groups - one that had been "abstinent" for 12 hours, while the
second group had smoked one hour earlier: Improvements in performance without
nicotine withdrawal (15).
Both groups were divided
into two subgroups, one receiving regular cigarettes, while the other had
fake cigarettes. In one task, participants were told to enter the correct
numbers in a certain sequence in 20 minutes - and after the first five
minutes they should light up a cigarette and take one puff every minute.
The results are shown here:
Figure 1 - Warburton
& Arnall, 1994: - The scale shows the number of correct answers, minute
by minute. Participants smoked one puff per minute in the period between
the dotted lines, from the 6. minute to the 15. minute. The two top lines
are the results for nicotine groups - the bottom two are from non-nicotine
groups. Each group consisted of one abstinent group & one non-abstinent
Result: The number of
correct answers rose in the two nicotine groups with approx. 30% from the
third cigarette puff. There was, however, no difference in responses between
the "abstinent" and the non-abstinent participants. The two nicotine groups
had also significantly 10-15% faster reaction time, (not shown in graph).
- The Warburton trial
shows specifically that cigarettes' effect on attention and response time
is particularly strong in the ten minutes during which the actual smoking
takes place, and in the following minutes.
He is one of the pioneers
of modern nicotine research, after the invention of nicotine pills and
chewing gum that allowed scientists to make nicotine trials in non-smokers.
It soon became clear however, that the effect of nicotine gum is not as
strong as the effect of smoking. As concluded in 1983 by Warburton and
Wesnes in a scientific article: Smoking, nicotine and human performance
produces improvements in mental efficiency, which are qualitatively similar
to the improvements produced by smoking, although our findings on vigilance
and rapid information processing indicate that the improvements are quantitatively
smaller than those produced by smoking."
David Warburton results were
later repeated in many controlled trials of nicotine, including Parrott
& Winder i 1989: Nicotine chewing gum and cigarette smoking: Comparative
effects upon vigilance and heart rate (17).
As the graph shows, smoking is the most effective nicotine delivery method:
Figure 2 - Parrott &
Winder, 1989: Differences in rapid visual information processing using
cigarettes, nicotine gum (2 and 4 mg) and placebo.
The authors conclude in the
article: "People entering smoking cessation programs, should be warned
to expect that vigilance and concentration will probably be reduced when
they cease smoking. They should also be advised that nicotine gum will
probably aid their concentration / attention, although not to the extent
that may have occurred with cigarettes."
- It may seem paradoxical
that smokers in countries with workplace smoking bans are sent away from
their desk when they smoke. Not only because of the extra time it takes
away from work, but because their brains perform most rapidly and accurately
when they are smoking and in the minutes that follow.
The indisputable evidence
for positive nicotine effects is also in contrast to some companies' policies
of not hiring smokers. In 2010 Danish bedding company Jysk asked smokers
not to apply when they advertised for new employees (18).
According to Jysk's management however, this policy was stopped because
of protests from the public.
Other companies have chosen
to arrange cessation courses among employees in order to appear to be politically
correct "healthy businesses". There is a risk that these companies are
not getting the best possible performance from their smoking employees.
|Is the smoke-free
growth free society?
|- Tobacco has become
very unpopular in the West in the last few decades, where authorities have
become increasingly tough against smoking because of the health risks from
long-term smoking, and because the smoke irritates many non-smokers. This
is likely why the beneficial effects of tobacco’s active ingredient,
nicotine, has been completely overlooked in the media, which have focused
exclusively on the negative health effects of smoking.
There still remain many unanswered
questions in nicotine research within the scientific community. It is however
now an established fact that smoking generally results in better brain
performance in smokers, and smokeless nicotine leads to better performance
in non-smokers, although to a lesser degree. After Heishman's analysis,
it can also be considered to be true that withdrawal effects lead to weaker
performance in abstinent smokers and nicotine users.
In a somewhat unscientific
way, it is probably safe to say that if non-nicotine users perform 1.0,
then nicotine users will perform up to 1.25 - with smokers as the absolute
top performers. At the same time nicotine users - especially smokers -
who fail to maintain nicotine levels will perform down to 0.75.
- This fact raises
the question: Can nicotine have had a beneficial effect on innovation &
growth in the economy in the last century? If this is true, it may help
to explain why the productivity of labor in the western world has decreased
slightly each year since the 1970s, when the official health campaigns
began to reduce the number of smokers.
One can also raise questions
about whether the numerous smoking bans in workplaces could have contributed
to the recent large productivity decline. In Denmark an unexpected and
inexplicable collapse in labor productivity was apparent in 2007 and 2008
- right after the state banned smoking in all Danish workplaces. (19
There may of course also
be other reasons for this decrease, but the issue should be explored, as
innovation and economic growth has shown historically weak development
in countries that have banned smoking in workplaces. It is very likely
that governments simply cannot obtain unilateral advantages with huge interventions
like the war on smoking and smoking bans.
Everything has a price, and
the advantage of achieving health benefits in the war against smoking may
very well be matched by paying a high price in the economy in terms of
loss of innovation and economic growth.
The question is, in other
words, whether the so-called smoke-free society is an economic growth-free
society. And if so, can the irritation of smoke in workplace be solved
in other ways? E.g. by splitting the workforce and implementing a better
and more efficient ventilation of indoor air in workplaces?
After all, who really wants
reduced performance from people who perform vital, concentration intensive
tasks in society as in the example of smoking pilots, that Dr. Heimstra
mentioned in 1976 (12)
- or from smoking surgeons or rescuers?
by Iro Cyr & Frank Davis
WHO-masterplan 1975: Lad os gøre passiv rygning “farligt”, KlausKblog,
vej mod et røgfrit Danmark, Information, 2010
of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance,
abstract, Heishman, Kleykamp, Singleton, 2010
of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance,
Rooney smoking and urinating in the street, Mail Online, 2010
is a soldier’s best friend, The Daily Beast, 2009
won’t ban tobacco use in military, CBS News, 2009
of cigarette smoking on performance in simulated driving task, Sherwood,
of nicotine on simulator flight performance in nonsmokers, Mumenthaler,
Proven Positive Effects of Nicotine and Tobacco, Tobacco Truth, 2010
Brad Rodu on Reduced Harm Tobacco, SnusCentral.org, 2009
Norman Heimstra disagrees with Ralph Nader’s claims, News Release
of nicotine and smoking on the central nervous system, Heimstra, 1967
effects of cigarette smoking on overnight performance, Parkin, Hindmarch,
in performance without nicotine withdrawal, Warburton & Arnall,
nicotine and human performance, Warburton & Wesnes, 1983
gum & smoking: Comparative effects upon vigilance & heartrate,
Parrott & Winder, 1989
ikke velkomne hos Jysk, (Smokers are not welcome at Jysk), Ekstra Bladet,
er der sket med den danske produktivitet? (What happened with the Danish
labor productivity?), Danish Economic Counsil, 2009
i timeproduktivitet i danske private byerhverv 1970-2008, Det økonomiske
reviewed nicotine experiments, 1989 - 2010:
effects of nicotine on visual search tasks in young adult smokers,
modulation of information processing is not limited to input but extends
to output, Rose 2010
reduces conflict-related anterior cingulate activity in abstinent smokers
performing stroop task, London, 2009
of smoking on acoustic startle and prepulse inhibition in humans, Duncan,
of nicotine chewing gum on a real-life motor task, Tucha & Lange,
of nicotine on novelty detection & memory recognition performance,
of nicotine gum on psychomotor performance in smokers & nonsmokers,
Hindmarch & Sherwood, 1990
and human information processing, Petrie & Deary, 1989
of nicotine on perceptual speed, Stough, Mangan, Bates, 1995
performance effect of subcutaneous nicotine in smokers & neversmokers,
processing is a requirement for nicotine-induced improvements in memory,
incidental memory with nicotine after semantic processing, but not after
phonological processing, Warburton, 2000
effects of nicotine and cigarette smoking: the real, the possible and the
spurious, Baron, 1996