Study finds consumers confused about nicotine’s health effects

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But there is little consensus about the substance in the medical community

A study produced by PinneyAssociates, a firm closely associated with the nicotine replacement industry, says U.S. consumers wrongly believe there is a link between nicotine and cancer.

It conducted a survey of adults that showed more than half believed that nicotine is the substance causing most of the cancer linked to smoking. Another 21 percent said they weren't sure whether nicotine was a carcinogen.

"That adults' misperceptions about the health effects of nicotine persist despite the long-term availability of FDA-approved over-the-counter nicotine replacement products is troubling and needs to be addressed with clear communications to the public—especially smokers—that nicotine is not what is causing smoking-related disease," said Karen Gerlach, the lead author on the study.

Questions about nicotine persist

But nicotine does not get a clean bill of health from many health experts. A study by the Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology study, published on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, says nicotine has its own health issues.

"There is an increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal disorders," the authors write. "There is decreased immune response and it also poses ill impacts on the reproductive health. It affects the cell proliferation, oxidative stress, apoptosis, DNA mutation by various mechanisms which leads to cancer."

The study concludes that the use of nicotine needs regulation and its sale should be "under supervision of trained medical personnel."

The other side of the debate

But there are plenty of scientists who take the other side of the debate, arguing that smoking cigarettes is many times worse than using nicotine products. Some doctors say a person who gives up smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for nicotine gum has removed most of their previous health risk.

In a recent Reuters interview, Ann McNeill, a professor at King's College London, called for "de-demonizing" nicotine. She says the risks are complicated and relative, with cigarette smoking at one end and nicotine use on the other.

British and American health officials also differ on the benefits and/or risks associated with e-cigarettes. U.S. health researchers tend to highlight the risks.

Late last week, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a study of e-cigarettes and found small amounts of some toxic metals in the liquids before use, but much higher levels after the liquids had been exposed to the device’s heating coils.

But a 2014 British study looked favorably upon e-cigarettes, concluding that smokers who used them were more likely to improve their health because they had a much better chance of kicking the habit.

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