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Obama Youth Nicotine Dependency Lessons Unacceptable

Hooked on nicotine gum for at least 13 months, Senator Obama is unwittingly leading America's youth to believe that he is not battling full-blown chemical addiction but simply some nasty little habit which he suggests he already has under control.

by John R. Polito   March 6, 2008

During his bid for President, has Senator Barack Obama ever spoken to a crowd without nicotine in his pocket, bloodstream and brain? Is it his destiny to spend the balance of life residing within an addict's realm of fear and denial, a place where the chemically enslaved mind leaves you totally yet falsely convinced that nicotine gives you your edge, helps you cope and that life without it would be horrible?

With conservative commentators Fox News story on Senator Barack smoking lying in wait, including Tucker Carlson, is the Senator playing into their hand? Will he continue to fail to arrest his dependency? Will that next fix remain more important than becoming President of the United States?

It's what true drug addiction is all about, about quickly burying all remaining memory of the beauty of the real you. It's about the limbic mind being fooled into equating use of an external chemical to a species survival event such as eating. As with eating, Senator Obama's enslaved brain rewards him with powerful dopamine "aaah" sensations upon nicotine's arrival, while punishing him with insula driven urges, craves and anxieties when he waits too long between feedings.

Senator Obama's February 6, 2007 announcement that he was quitting smoking seemed the perfect opportunity to elevate to the national stage, and possibly even Presidential debates, the plight of the one billion who the World Health Organization predicts will lose their lives to nicotine addiction this century. Even more so due to the Senator's extensive legislative history in having battled to diminish tobacco's annual death toll.

But as a cessation educator, to me, the Senator's quitting announcement arrived with rather glaring defects. There was no mention of desire, of doing this for himself. Instead he revealed that he was quitting for his wife Michelle, that as a condition to running for President he had promised her he'd quit smoking.

It is a core tenet of chemical dependency recovery that you cannot quit for others, that "coming home" must be your gift to you. Quitting for others fosters a natural sense of feeling deprived, a self deprivation that gradually eats away at any personal quitting dreams and desires, and is a recipe for relapse.

I just completed presenting 63 nicotine cessation seminars in 28 S.C. prisons. Each opened with a slide sharing a horrible 2002 study finding that reflected my primary reason for wanting to be standing there. It read, "97% of inmates forced to stop using tobacco while in prison, relapse to using it within 6 months of release." How will Senator Obama react once the campaign is over?

Also of concern was his revelation that he was using nicotine gum. It "works well," he said. My follow-up question would have been, works well for what, Senator?

Relying upon junk and sham science, during the past 24 years the FDA has partnered with the pharmaceutical industry in re-labeling a highly potent natural insecticide "medicine" (see Black Leaf 40), while terming its use "therapy."

Nicotine is 166 times more lethal than caffeine (LD50=60mg vs. 10grams). Drop for drop it is more deadly than strychnine (75mg), diamond back rattlesnake venom (100mg), arsenic (200mg) or cyanide (500mg).

Recent studies implicate nicotine as playing key roles in tumor promotion and growth, inhibiting apoptosis and chemotherapy effectiveness, vascular lesions, generation of oxygen free radicals, and damage to serotonin, dopamine and auditory and visual attention pathways.

If nicotine toxicology and pharmacology researchers such as Duke Medical University's Theodore Slotkin, PhD and University of Arkansas Professor Emeritus K.H. Ginzel, M.D. are correct, nicotine is tobacco's single most destructive chemical.

In ranking disease and death risks posed by various forms of nicotine delivery there is no debate but that smoked nicotine is by far the riskiest of all, with nicotine delivered by oral tobacco a distant second, and replacement nicotine posing the least risk of all.

What we don't yet have is credible science showing the degree of benefit conferred when a body already damaged by years of smoking trades smoked nicotine for less destructive forms of delivery. Although we're seeing an explosion of nicotine science, the risks picture is likely still far from complete, as is understanding of the damage posed by long-term use of pharmaceutical nicotine alone.

What we do know is that so long as the nicotine addict's dependency remains active that the risk of returning to the delivery device providing the biggest and fastest dopamine bang remains real and significant.

Turning to Senator Obama's repeated statements that nicotine gum "works well, how effective are over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy (OTC NRT) products such as the nicotine gum and patch?

During 2003, two of GlaxoSmithKline's most productive study consultants (GSK was then the seller of Nicorette gum and a line of nicotine patches) co-authored two key OTC NRT studies, which when placed side-by-side generate more questions than answers.

Their March 2003 study combined and averaged seven U.S. over-the-counter nicotine patch and gum studies and found that just 7% of users were still not smoking at six months, a 93% failure rate. Their November 2003 "persistent use" study found that nearly 7% of nicotine gum quitters were still chewing nicotine gum at six months, and that overall 37% of nicotine gum users were, as the NY Times put it, "hooked on the cure."

According to the Chicago Tribune, during Obama's February 6, 2007 quitting announcement he stated that "I've never been a heavy smoker." "I've quit periodically over the last several years. I've got an ironclad demand from my wife that in the stresses of the campaign I don't succumb. I've been chewing Nicorette strenuously."

The Senator is also quoted as saying, "I've never been a heavy smoker and don't smoke in front of folks or in the house." "It's one of those habits you can quit for a while and then you start back up."

As if just a little bit pregnant, Senator Obama's dependent and rationalizing mind seized upon a nicotine patch question as an additional opportunity to further minimize his condition. "I'm not somebody who's all that hooked." "I didn't want more nicotine coming to me than I had been ingesting."

But I was somewhat comforted by a story the next day in the St. Petersburg Times. It quoted my mentor since January 2000, Joel Spitzer, openly advising Senator Obama on quitting. My comfort flowed from the fact that, by fate or coincidence, both Obama and Spitzer lived in the Chicago area and that surely they'd get together.

Spitzer truly is an American hero, the Henry Aaron of quitting. Having been a full-time nicotine cessation counselor since 1976, it is likely he has logged more clinic, seminar and online counseling hours than any human ever. I've studied the lessons of cessation counselors from around the globe and the only work that comes close is the U.K.'s Allen Carr, whom we lost to lung cancer three months prior to Obama announcing quitting.

Spitzer advised Senator Obama to "skip the gum and go cold turkey," that he was "dealing with a drug addiction" and whether from a cigar, cigarette or Nicorette he's introducing nicotine back into his system. Surely the Senator would read and heed Joel's advice, or so I hoped.

Presidental Candidate Barack Obama following a speech in the Burke High School gym on April 24, 2007. But just in case the Senator or a staffer noticed the article and grew curious, that same day Spitzer laid out a series of relevant lessons at Freedom from Tobacco, a free online quitting forum where, since 2000, he has served as education director.

Spitzer tied Obama story quotes to forum quitting articles that included such topics as "quitting for others," stress rationalizations (including how nicotine induces stress), strength rationalizations, his "I'm not much of a smoker" rationalization, Obama's life as a closet smoker, and the inspiring lessons Obama now had the opportunity to teach, including an open admission of chemical dependency upon nicotine.

While fully acknowledging that cold turkey isn't the only way to quit, Spitzer shared lessons on why the smoker's natural quitting instincts are worthy of greater trust than those pushing pharmaceutical cures.

But a March 20, 2007 AP story contained a comment by Senator Obama that nicotine gum is "working so far." It seemed to suggest that Obama either had not seen Spitzer's lessons or dismissed them.

Still, gum and all, online quitters were pulling for him with some, including me, writing trying to penetrate his protective wall of denial with the message that knowledge and understanding truly is a quitting method.

On April 27, 2007 the Senator came here, to Charleston, SC and spoke in the Burke High School gym where afterwards I was able to reach out and quickly hand him a copy of Spitzer's book "Never Take Another Puff," a PDF electronic book that had recorded more than one million downloads in 24 months. Although he may have taken the title to heart, I am confident he never made time to read it.

Then the bad news started arriving. Senator Obama's still captive and rationalizing mind decided to start implying that his battle with quitting was over, that he'd won, that all that remained was mop-up.

Senator Obama throwing a piece of Nicotine gum to a person attending a June 12, 2007 California rallyA June 12, 2007 encounter at a California rally is documented by both a USA Today story and YouTube video. It shows the Senator being asked how he was able to quit smoking. His reply, "Nicorette. You want one?" Obama then reached into his left pocket, pulled out three pieces of nicotine gum, tore one off and tossed it to the man, saying, " "Here, try one out." "Now that's two milligrams because I only had, like, three or four a day ... when I was smoking but if you're a heavier smoker you may need the four milligrams. It's not bad, though. It works well."

In regard to YouTube videos, another video suggests that Senator Obama may have ingested nicotine in a Senate conference room on September 11, 2007, either before or after addressing Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus.

On February 10, 2008, Obama announced he had kept his promise to Michelle. "You know, it's been tough, but that Nicorette has worked out," "You're supposed to have phased out on that stuff - I haven't completely, I'm still chewing."

It had now been a year. The Senator had been on nicotine gum four times longer than the twelve-week use period approved by the FDA.

Senator Obama was again asked about the patch. "The patch, I was a little more worried about," he said. "The truth is that ... this was a nasty habit, but it wasn't a heavy one. So I didn't get the shakes or anything like that."

On February 28, 2008, during airing of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," the Senator stated "I've been chewing on this Nicorette, which tastes like you're chewing on ground pepper - but it does help." He again discussed how Michelle had used his smoking as leverage when discussing whether to run for president and that she would agree only if Obama agreed to stop smoking.

"I had been sneaking three cigarettes, four cigarettes a day for a while, and she said if you're going to do this you've got to stop - precisely because the stress was going to increase, and it'll just get worse," he said. "So that's an example of my wife making me a better man once again."

It's unfair to blame the Senator or the 40 million Americans who became hooked during youth for society's failure to warn them about the power of this captivating chemical. Unlike Canada, there is no U.S. addiction warning label.

Tobacco ads hanging above candy racks are not there by chance yet elected leaders remain silent.  Why?Today, sadly, nearly every elected leader in our nation remains silent as an ocean of nicotine industry signs posted on, in and around neighborhood candy, chip and soda stores daily assault immature and curious minds with the message that they have not yet lived, experienced true pleasure, stirred their senses, been true or tasted real flavor until they've smoke cigarettes.

To his credit, it's reported that just this week Senator Obama joined nine other Senators in calling upon President Bush to send the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty to the United States Senate for ratification. The treaty has already been ratified by 152 other nations. If within a signing nation's constitution or constitutional principles, it calls for a "comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising" (see Article 13).

But local leaders shouldn't be waiting for some treaty to protect their community's youth. They should be falling all over each other to save them. Instead, their collective silence during 2008 will allow 140,655 U.S. convenience stores to play key marketing roles in enslaving the brains of more than a half-a-million young, undefended and curious minds.

It is clearly not Senator Obama's intent to teach America's youth that he is "a better man" by remaining nicotine's slave and having more than 200 of his body's natural chemicals flow in response to nicotine's arrival. But if we are to defend their neuro-chemical freedom it is a lesson that needs correcting.

Another that must not go unchallenged is the Senator's assertion that all he is dealing with is a "nasty habit," that he isn't "all that hooked" (while "strenuously" chewing).

Senator, with all due respect, ask yourself, what is a child or teen's definition of the word "habit" and how long does it take to form one? In their minds, is it likely akin to what happens when you use cuss words too often, or when mom yells at a driver for not using turn signals, or maybe seeing other youth talk back to adults?

In their minds, does it hurt to stop using bad language, to develop better driving habits or treat adults with respect? In their mind does ending a "habit" produce a rising tide of urges, anxieties and craves, an emotional train wreck that may not peak for up to 72 hours, that's often accompanied by anger, fear, depression, bargaining, irritability, impatience, restlessness, time distortion and an inability to concentrate?

How many pieces of 2mg Nicorette gum can the average teenager chew before chewing becomes mandatory? Do you know? Once they start experimenting with nicotine, how many will get curious and try smoking it?

Senator, you are a trusted role model to millions of American youth and have before you a rich opportunity to teach the most critical nicotine dependency lesson their ears will likely ever hear. As a former 30-year slave myself, I beg you to employ the same openness and honesty that's electrified a nation in teaching a deeply personal lesson of national importance.

We are where we find ourselves, and truth can set us free. In fact, admitting true chemical addiction has two immediate benefits. First, it makes the quitting rules simple. There is no having our cake and eating it to, no in-between. There was always only one rule ... no nicotine today.

Second, admitting where we find ourselves ends the need for the scores of lies we each invented to explain that next mandatory feeding.

Is it normal to smoke or chew a stimulant before climbing into bed? Why not share what it's like to live as slave to a powerful central nervous system stimulant that makes the heart pound 20 beats per minute faster? Why not get them thinking about never again knowing what it feels like to totally relax for an entire day.

Is it normal to steal a dopamine "aaah" reward sensation prior to focusing upon such sobering matters as war and death? Teach them about nicotine's two-hour blood-serum half-life, about how it mandates that next feeding, about life as a closet nicotine addict, about the honest reality of needing to locate a place to hide, so that administering that next nicotine fix remains private?

What would it be like to be "you" again, to have brain serotonin levels responding to life not nicotine, to eat normally again and not have nicotine pumping stored fats and sugars into your bloodstream via fight or flight pathways, to go entire days without once thinking about wanting to ingest nicotine?

It isn't too late, Senator, not for you or this nation's youth. But time is short. Clearly, you've had no choice but to rationalize where you find yourself but please correct these horrible lessons and set the record straight.

What learning takes place by chewing gum, slapping on a patch or swallowing a pill? Knowledge and understanding truly is a quitting method, Senator. I encourage you to master both why that next fix seems so important and the path home to "you." Baby steps, just one hour, challenge and day at a time. There was always only one rule ... no nicotine today. Yes you can!

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Written 03/06/08 and page reformatted 08/06/18 by John R. Polito