KAC Communications is proud to be welcoming Professor Lynne Dawkins of the Centre for Addictive Behaviours Research at London South Bank University to GFN19. Professor Dawkins will be exploring whether nicotine has any beneficial effects for users. With over 20 years’ experience of working with smokers and, more recently, electronic cigarette users, Professor Dawkins is one of the UK’s leading authorities on e-cigarettes, having published papers on profiles of use, acute effects, puffing topographies, nicotine delivery and smoking cessation.
Our conference theme is ‘It’s time to talk about nicotine.’ Does your work lead you to believe that nicotine has beneficial effects for those who use it? What about the downsides?
The title of my talk is ‘Beneficial effects of nicotine: fact or fiction’. Following Professor Paul Newhouse’s presentation last year on the treatment of disorders of the aging brain with nicotine, I will be exploring the effects of nicotine on cognition, mood and reward in the healthy population. Whether nicotine has any beneficial or advantageous effects for the non-clinical population is hotly debated. As many of the enhancing effects of nicotine (e.g. mood enhancement, stress reduction, cognitive enhancement) are often related to the reversal of withdrawal in smokers, these effects can be difficult to disentangle. However, newer research on non-smokers and non-dependent smokers can begin to answer this question.
It seems that nicotine is more likely to exacerbate stress and negative mood rather than improve it. However, there is some evidence that nicotine can yield performance enhancements in some areas of attention and memory and possibly enhance the effects of other rewarding activities (e.g. listening to music). Research in this area is complicated by difficulties in separating nicotine from smoking and acute and chronic effects.
You used to work with smokers, and now your research sees you focused on e-cigarette users. Does the work feel significantly different to you? What about the population you are working with?
I am continuing to work with both smokers and e-cigarette users including those who use both products (‘dual users’). Since my work focuses on a range of different methods to help smokers to quit, the work doesn’t feel significantly different. E-cigarettes work very well as a cessation aid for some smokers, but many others have either not tried them or not found them sufficiently satisfying to fully support smoking cessation. Exploring other routes to cessation and understanding the processes and mechanisms underlying success among different populations remain of paramount importance. A key area of my work at present is around supporting homeless smokers to quit (including through the use of e-cigarettes), as smoking prevalence is amongst the highest in this group, who experience multiple disadvantages.
How do you feel the UK is doing with regards to the development of the science around safer nicotine products?
The UK, with its focus on tobacco harm reduction continues to be a leader in nicotine and tobacco research and the key funders (Cancer Research UK and the National Institute of Health Research in particular) are increasing their support for e-cigarette research and working to identify research gaps. Public Health England and the Stoptober campaign have also helped to disseminate findings and present accurate information on reduced risk products, but more could be done nationally and globally to disseminate accurate, evidence-based information.
And finally, who are you hoping to hear speak at GFN19? Why would you recommend people come to GFN19?
The GFN is unique in its approach of allowing and encouraging attendance and dissemination from a variety of academics, policy makers, industry, charities and advocacy groups which brings different perspectives together under one roof. I am looking forward to hearing a diverse range of talks, but especially the session on vulnerable and hard to reach populations, who suffer the worst health-related consequences of smoking.