Stop ‘Stoptober’: seven health benefits associated with smoking

Diet & Fitness

15th October 2014

James Delingpole’s latest Spectator column laments the pernicious portmanteau afflicting this fine month:

Stoptober. Geddit? That’s ‘-ober’, as in the second half of ‘October’, with the word ‘Stop’ cunningly positioned where the ‘Oct’ would normally be. And what marketing genius was responsible for this rebranding? Why, someone from an Orwellian body which you’d probably much prefer didn’t exist, let alone to have to fund with your taxes. Public Health England.

James closes with his own call to action: ‘Let’s start by reclaiming October.’

In that spirit, and on the conviction that public tediousness is a greater hazard than the odd puff, here are seven non-catastrophic health-related outcomes observed in association with smoking.

1. Revenge of the skinny couch-potatoes: smokers undergo fewer joint surgeries. Smokers tend to be both scrawny and sedentary. We burn roughly 200 more calories per day than non-smokers,without rising from our armchairs. So it makes sense that a study of 11,388 American men found long-term smokers were 42-51 per cent less likely to undergo knee, hip or other joint-replacement surgeries than men who had never smoked. An even larger Australian study in 2013 found similar among women.

2. Smoking keeps you sharp – or at least, nicotine does. Paul Newhouse, of Vanderbilt  University’s Center for Cognitive Medicine, cautions that ‘nicotine doesn’t do much for memory and attention in the normal population’. But after a pilot clinical trial that involved sticking nicotine patches on non-smokers, aged 76 on average and displaying mild cognitive impairments, Newhouse and his team reported ‘significant nicotine-induced improvement’ after six months.

Work from the University of Sussex further explores the link. Using participants aged 18 to 30, Jennifer Rusted et al found that ‘cognitive enhancement by nicotine can selectively benefit’ carriers of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) allele, ‘which confers an increased risk of developing dementia’. They went on to report in the Journal of Physcopharmacology last year that in healthy participants aged 43 to 58, ‘nicotine improved attentional reorienting’ in APOE carriers, ‘consistent with studies in young adults’.

3. Granny’s Superkings may help her combat Parkinson’s Disease. Scientists have been puzzling for decades over the negative correlation between smoking and Parkinson’s morbidity. The relationship may lie in nicotine’s trigger effect on the release of dopamine, which is depleted in Parkinson’s patients; and its mitigation of the involuntary muscle movements that come as a side-effect of levodopa, a drug used to stimulate dopamine. A 2007 study on monkey brains found that ‘nicotine treatment to levodopa-primed monkeys led to an approximately 35% reduction in total dyskinesias’. And in both monkeys and rats with Parkinson’s, early nicotine treatment proves ‘neuroprotective’ to the nigrostriatial bundle – a key neural pathway involved in dopamine delivery.

4. There is a tiny chance that smoking will save your unborn baby’s life. Don’t expect to read this in a pamphlet at the obstetrician’s office, but the Canadians told us decades ago that pregnant smokers have a decreased occurrence of preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders, which kill nearly 100,000 women and half-a-million babies globally every year. It’s probably got to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of nicotine. Meanwhile, if you’re already preeclamptic, McGill University’s Kahn et al (more Canadians) found in a 2011 study of 556 pregnant women (113 of whom were preeclamptic) that:

‘Maternal smoking seems to protect against preeclampsia-associated fetal growth restriction.’

5. The children of smokers may be less annoyin- er, less allergic. A 2001 study published in the journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, analyzing data from more than 10,000 people, found that:

‘[C]hildren of mothers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day tended to have lower odds for suffering from allergic rhino-conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema and food allergy, compared to children of mothers who had never smoked.’

Scientists since have been experimenting on rats to explore any relationship between nicotine and mast cells, which are implicated in allergy and anaphylaxis.

6. Cigarettes make your heart pill go down better. So you smoked your whole life and now have cardiovascular disease; to help prevent future heart attacks, stroke, peripheral arterial trouble and other unpleasantries, you may have to take an antiplatelet drug called clopidogrel. How tedious. The upside? Turns out that cigarette-smoking promotes one of the enzymes required to activate clopidogrel. In a 2012 letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association, a handful of thrombotic and pharmaceutical experts write:

‘Recent analyses of large-scale trials suggest either a reduced or complete lack of clinical benefit from clopidogrel therapy in nonsmokers.’

7. Smoking appears to immunize you against a very specific type of bleeding ulcer. Ulcerative colitus, to be precise, is “primarily a disease of non-smokers”, as one 2011 study put it in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis. And if you already have ulcerative colitus, a moderate nicotine habit could help. Cambridge-based physician and gut-disease afficionado John Hunter explains this may be because nicotine ‘increases the adherent surface mucus in the large intestine,’ which ‘acts as a protective barrier’.

None of the above benefits, mind you, outweigh the well-documented horribles resulting from cigarettes. Chief among them: temporary psychosis induced by the ceaseless nattering of anti-smoking activists.