September 23, 2015
Smoking Is Actually Good for You! Scientists Discover New Weapon in Battle for Workplace Wellness
By Warren Holleman
Updated March 9, 2017
A new study, scheduled to be published this week in the journal Lancet, will present “compelling evidence” for a controversial approach to promoting employee health. “We’re going to teach employees how to smoke cigarettes,” says Dr. Akhila Thomas, MD, lead author of the study and a professor at Houston’s Altria School of Public Health. At a press conference yesterday, Dr. Thomas explained: “We believe smoking might just be the ‘magic bullet’ to bring America’s over-stressed, overweight, sedentary, socially isolated, electronically intexticated workforce back to healthy work-styles and lifestyles.”
Here are the major findings of the study.
1. Smokers take breaks, and nonsmokers do not.
The authors of the meta-analysis cite time-motion observational studies, as well as self-report surveys, indicating that cigarette smokers take nearly 3 times as many breaks throughout the workday as nonsmokers. “We already knew that taking periodic breaks is associated with lowered blood pressure and reduced anxiety or stress,” commented Dr. Thomas. “So it was a simple matter of showing that smokers take more breaks than nonsmokers. And they do.” She described the nicotine urge as an “alarm clock in their brains,” reminding them to take a walk and grab a smoke. In the process, she said, “they reinvigorate their minds as well as their bodies.”
“In follow-up studies we are hoping to show links to increased productivity as well,” commented Julius Graves, DrPH, a Fellow at the Altria institute and a co-author of the study. According to Dr. Graves, nonsmokers spend more time at their workstations, but they actually accomplish less. “They just veg out or waste time on Facebook.” Graves has published studies showing that periodic breaks “energize” and “accelerate” both work flow and work output. “In our next round of studies we hope to show that smoking can bring back the breaks and, with it, the productivity.”
2. Smokers get more exercise than nonsmokers.
Aggregating the findings from studies of various industries and geographic regions, the study’s authors found that the median distance that U.S. office-based workers now walk to get outside their smoke-free work zones is .22 miles (.41 km). Dr. Graves: “Walking for 10 minutes several times per day is good for your heart, good for your digestive system, and good for your mental health.” The study found that smokers, on average, walk twice as much per day as nonsmokers. “That’s a huge difference. It may not be everything you need to be healthy, but it’s a step, so to speak, in the right direction.”
In an editorial commentary published alongside the research study, Dr. Karen Ying described sitting as “the new smoking.” Her own research team is collecting data on the “sitting sequences” of smokers versus nonsmokers. “Sitting is really, really bad for you, and our hypothesis is that the vast majority of chronic sitting is done by nonsmokers.” If the urge to smoke gets them to “get up, get out, and take a walk, that’s a good thing!” Dr. Ying holds the Felix Frankfurter and Dorothy Hamburger Chair of Nutrition at the T. Bone Pickens Institute of Health Research.
3. Smoking improves mindfulness.
In study after study reviewed in the meta-analysis, the brains of smokers were shown to emit fewer of the so-called “outlaw” or Xepa waves than the non-smoking cohorts. Thus the authors were able to conclude that smoking is associated with “higher levels of mindfulness, ability to focus, and ability to maintain concentration.” Killary Izzo, B.S., a leading expert on Xepa waves and the Aveo Chair of Behavioral Science at Trump University, concurred: “Xepa particles don’t lie. On our imaging scans of smokers, they look very static and unidirectional. But the scans of nonsmokers tell a different story. They look like a bucket of ping pong balls dumped from a high balcony onto a cement floor!”
Izzo added that in today’s busy work environments, being focused and mindful is a crucial job skill. “Smoking can help make that happen.”
According to Izzo, the psychomotor activity of smoking is virtually identical to most forms of meditation and mindfulness training, where individuals are taught to “relax and focus on the breath.” “We tell them to breathe in slowly, hold and savor the breath, breathe out slowly, then repeat.” To aide in this process, many meditation instructors teach their students to visualize that they are exhaling blue smoke. Izzo says that with the use of cigarettes as teaching aides, “that visualization process would be much simpler and more accessible to those traditionally resistant to meditation. Why visualize when you can exhale the real thing? And inhale, too!”
4. Smokers have better social support networks than nonsmokers.
The forthcoming paper cites extensive research showing that social support is a key component of good health. In one famous study of breast cancer patients, for example, those who participated in a support group had significantly better quality of life than those who did not.
The new study found that smokers are experts at forming support groups. They walk to the designated smoking areas together, they smoke together, and they walk back together. And they do that several times per day, all the while sharing “from their hearts, their lungs, and their lives.” That’s a “significant social interaction” and a “significant health benefit.”
Contacted by phone at her office in New York, Juana N. Hale, DSW, an expert on support groups, concurred with the findings of the study. “It makes perfect sense. To the average bystander, it looks like those people are just getting their nicotine fixes. But, actually, there is something else important, really important, going on.” They are also getting what she termed “their relationship fixes.” Most non-smokers, she adds, simply don’t enjoy that sense of community. “Like automatons, they sit in their cubicles and bang out emails to each other. They miss out on human interaction, human connection, human touch. They might as well be in a space capsule halfway to Mars.”
Hale says we need only look to a well-known Native American tradition for a precedent. “Think of the community, gathered around a campfire and smoking a peace pipe.” She views today’s designated smoking areas as “the 21st century campfires, and cigarettes as the 21st century peace pipes.” Plus, she adds, “Cigarettes provide a more efficient nicotine delivery system than smoking technology of the 18th and 19th centuries. That’s important for stress relief.” Dr. Hale is Professor of Sociology at the New Skoal for Social Research in New York, Texas.
5. Smokers may have reduced exposure to air pollution.
The forthcoming meta-analysis reviewed new research testing the hypothesis that those who smoke filtered cigarettes in Gulf Coast refinery communities may have lower incidences of lung cancer and other lung diseases than nonsmokers and smokers of unfiltered cigarettes. “These individuals have the misfortune to live and work in a very toxic environment, with air pollution reaching dangerous levels every day, including benzene, benzane, benzone, benzune, and numerous other carcinogens and particulates.”
But there is good news. Recent studies of lung disease in Pasadena, Texas show that those who inhale the air through the filters of their cigarettes might actually receive a substantial reduction in the risk. Drs. Thomas and Graves recommend that individuals in high pollutant areas smoke frequently when outdoors and inhale only through the filters of their cigarettes.
6. Smoking reduces stress and workplace violence.
The meta-analysis also showed that smoking is an effective way to control workplace stress. “In studies where subjects were administered validated psychological instruments, such as the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), or the Folger Anxiety Response Test (FART), smokers were found to have significantly lower levels of stress and anxiety than nonsmokers.”
The findings on workplace violence are likely to be controversial. Colton Ash, III, Executive Director of the National Center on Cigarette Smoking and Workplace Violence (NCCSWV), offered this interpretation of the data: “When smokers feel upset, they just grab their cigarettes, go outside, and smoke. After one or two cigarettes, they are ready to return to work—safe and happy. But when nonsmokers get angry, it’s a different story. Without nicotine, people can be very violent.”
Ash III quoted Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA): “Guns don’t kill people. People deprived of nicotine kill people.”
7. Smoking promotes weight control and weight reduction.
“Given that nicotine is a proven appetite suppressant, cigarettes may yet prove to be an essential weapon in the fight against obesity and perhaps many of the diseases that lie in its wake, including sleep apnea and DTS (Difficulty Tying Shoes and a co-morbid condition known as Dirty Toenail Syndrome).”
At the press conference Thomas commented that in a world where virtually everything you put in your mouth has been “sugarized and super-sized,” it’s nice to know that you have a relatively healthy alternative in the form of cigarettes and cigars. The forthcoming study found that the only cigarettes shown to induce weight gain are candy cigarettes, which are marketed to children. “The problem with most brands of candy cigarettes is that they contain high quantities of sugar, as well as other harmful additives. Consuming as few as 5 candy cigarettes per day is a risk factor for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.” The authors of the paper advocate taking those harmful products off the market and replacing them with tobacco-only cigarettes. “Our children are our future. We need them to survive into adulthood so they can enjoy a lifetime of smoking.”
8. Smoking exposes us to the pharmacologic benefits of sunshine.
“The urge to smoke serves an important function in getting smokers up from their chairs, out of their offices, and into the great outdoors.” There they receive therapeutic doses of sunlight which enable the skin to produce Vitamin D, which is essential to the prevention of osteoporosis. Vitamin D is also needed to combat rickets, an “old” disease that is making a comeback in developed countries among children who spend too much time indoors. The authors also point to studies showing that exposure to sunlight may promote the production of serotonin and block the production of melatonin, both processes of which are essential to preventing depression and perhaps anxiety-related illnesses as well.
As Dr. Thomas puts it, “Sunshine is just plain good for you, as long as you use sunscreen appropriately.” It would be nice, she says, if people would voluntarily spend time outdoors. “But, in a world of air conditioning and big-screen TVs, that–as we say in Texas–‘just ain’t gonna happen’!’”
Then she lowers her gaze, smiles a wry smile, and adds wistfully, “So I thank God for cigarettes. They help my patients do the right thing. Whether it’s exercising, taking breaks, stress reduction, appetite control, or just getting out in the sunshine. They help us do the right thing.”
Ask Your Doctor If Smoking Is Right for You
Dr. Thomas concluded the press conference with a pitch for health education. “If you, or someone you know, would like help in learning how to smoke–or, if you are a casual smoker but would like to become a serious one–please do not hesitate to contact our new Smoking for Fun and Fitness Program. The toll-free number is 1-800-422-BARF.”