Tobacco and coffee: not as bad as we thought?

Smoking is bad.  But is tobacco?

Smoking is bad.But is tobacco bad too?

Scientific American recently reported on research on the effects of tobacco and coffee on the brain.  It turns out that there’s something in tobacco and coffee that helps keep dopamine cells healthy, which means that we may be on the verge of figuring out why coffee-drinkers and smokers tend to have a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.  This reinforces what I’ve always thought: value judgements suck.

This could be great news for those who suffer from a variety of dopamine-related illnesses, but I think the most interesting bit is that there’s something good about coffee and tobacco.  It’s not caffeine or nicotine, but there’s something else in these substances that seems to be quite beneficial.  This is interesting because of how generally reviled coffee and tobacco are (especially the latter).  It’s an important lesson we all need to learn: just because something seems bad doesn’t mean there’s nothing good about it.

Too often we make foolish value judgements based on how we use something rather than on the thing itself. We drink too much coffee and get sick, so we blame coffee.  And we identify tobacco as a bad substance because we smoke the stuff and get cancer.  This is, of course, ridiculous.  Plants are neither good nor bad.  These are only labels we put on things to make ourselves feel better when we screw up.  We smoke excessively, we ignore the warnings of doctors, we get cancer and die.  And thus tobacco becomes “bad,” when rather it’s us who are being stupid.  And thus labelled, curiosity about it’s potentially beneficial uses are ignored completely.

I have to wonder, if it weren’t for the stigma attached to, say, tobacco over the last few decades, would we have found out long ago about the benefits of some elements of tobacco to dopamine production?  And would we now have better medicines for diseases like Parkinson’s?

It bothers me immensely that the answers to these questions could very well be “Yes.”

We need to stop making value judgements about things, because they make us stupid.


6 thoughts on “Tobacco and coffee: not as bad as we thought?

  1. I’m not against smoking as long as the smoker is considerate of their surroundings for other non-smokers
    (also the unbearable strong cigarette smell certain people have is as bad as B.O.)

    “Charlie the Smoking Chimp” apparently lived 10 years longer than the 7% that lives past 40

    moderation is key

    • Thanks for the comment.

      One slight issue here: the reported work is NOT about smoking, but about tobacco. That is, there are other ways to get tobacco into your system besides smoking it. Like chewing it.

      (And as an occasional smoker, I appreciate your level-headedness. 🙂

      Fil Salustri

  2. I’m trying to find a way to appreciate nicotene without the risk of cancer. I’m thinking of putting rolling tobacco in my coffee grinds and seeing how that turns out. I agree, tobacco is useful. As for coffee, I see no harm in moderation.

  3. It is perhaps the most wide-spread and pernicious canard that tobacco smoke is “bad for you”, one that has been repeated, swallowed, and internalized to such an extent – at least in the US – that the possibility that tobacco is, in fact, an ancient medicinal plant used successfully for thousands of years, with powerful healing properties, might come as a surprise. Take a look at the hard science – the animal experiments (as opposed to the “soft studies” of epidemiology), and you will see that the truth is not always the way it seems.

    As the above study in SciAM notices, tobacco significantly reduces the rate of Parkinson’s: smoker’s have several-fold reduction in Parkinson’s risk compared to non-smokers, and the mechanism is believed to be due to the MAO-B inhibiting properties of the smoke (of which take chronic use, several years, to reach full inhibition). Smoking upregulates telomerase, the fountain of youth, and doubles the key antioxidants catalase and gluthione, reduces IGF-1, raises youth hormones (DHEA, pregnenolone, testosterone…).

    Go ahead and look around you for something that has this many medicinal benefits – you will find nothing coming close. Even coffee, which I also enjoy, does not come close with regards to the hormonal effects, MAO-B inhibition (tobacco smoke is more potent inhibitor) the reduction of IGF-1… upregulation of the various longevity-antioxidants… Thus it stands, that tobacco is a potent youth elixir, a veritable component of any anti-aging regime, with no equivalent rival, and I encourage everyone here to seriously take a look at the hard science animal experiments yourself, as they clearly show that tobacco smoking is actually good for you (smoking animals lived 20% longer than controls, were sharper, thinner, etc).

    I should note, by the way, that I have no affiliation to any government organization, tobacco industry, etc except insofar as I am a smoker. I do not smoke commercialized cigarettes nor use filters as they are toxic; I hand-roll my own cigarettes with rolling tobacco; I enjoy Natural American Spirit and Red Cape.

    – Neurology. 1999 Sep 22;53(5):1158. Smoking and Parkinson’s disease: a dose-response relationship Gorell JM, Rybicki BA, Johnson CC, Peterson EL
    – Temporal relationship between cigarette smoking and risk of Parkinson disease” (NEUROLOGY 2007;68:764-768)
    -Irreversible inhibition of monoamine oxidase by some components of cigarette smoke, Life Science (1987 Aug 10;41(6):675-82)
    -Smoking is associated with increased telomerase activity in short-term cultures of human bronchial epithelial cells, Cancer Letters 2007 Feb 8;246(1-2):24-33. Epub 2006 Mar 6–from the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.
    -Selective increase of antioxidant enzyme activity in the alveolar macrophages from cigarette smokers and smoke-exposed hamsters. for American Review of Respiratory Disease, (1990 Mar, vol. 141, no 3, p. 678-82).
    -Relation of age and smoking to serum levels of total testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate in aged men in Geriatrics & Gerontology International (Volume 6 Issue 1 Page 49-52, March 2006)

    Further reading:

    • Thanks for the note. I certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness you put into it, and the references you provided.

      I too am a smoker.

      However, I would suggest that we think this way: there’s two parts to smoking – the chemistry of tobacco acting in the body, and the delivery system for that tobacco. Since tobacco’s chemicals can be introduced in other ways besides smoking, it is reasonable to consider the two parts as disjoint.

      I have not had the time to read the papers you cite, but I would think that any benefits accrue solely from the chemistry of tobacco in the body, and not at all from the act of smoking itself.

      So while I can accept that there are benefits to the chemicals in tobacco, I’m still not convinced that smoking it is necessary.

      I’ll see if I can make the time to read those paper.

      Thanks again!

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