Adversaries in the nicotine war are reacting loudly to the bomb dropped by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in a report linking cigarettes and other tobacco products to the addictive properties of drugs like cocaine.
"Hysteria is running rampant! In the middle of a supposed war on drugs, the surgeon general has mistaken the enemy," cried Sen. Terry Sanford, a Democrat from tobacco-rich North Carolina, after Koop unveiled his thick report Monday."Physicians assisting patients who wish to quit smoking have seen the addictive nature of tobacco firsthand," countered the American Medical Association, agreeing with the surgeon general's conclusions.
In "The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction," Koop's research team rebuffed arguments that nicotine is relatively harmless compared to other addictive substances, noting tobacco-related deaths far outpace those caused by alcohol, 125,000 annually; heroin, 4,000; and cocaine, 2,000.
"This report shows conclusively that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting in the same sense as are drugs such as heroin and cocaine," Koop said. "Our nation has mobilized enormous resources to wage a war on drugs, illicit drugs. We should also give priority to the one addiction, tobacco addiction, that is killing more than 300,000 Americans each year."
Anti-smoking activists stressed alternatives, however. The Coalition on Smoking OR Health - which includes the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association - supports legislation proposed by Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., to require a new label on cigarette packages and advertisements warning smokers of nicotine's addictive danger.
Rep. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who wrote the recent law banning smoking on most commercial airline flights, called Koop's report "a fundamental challenge to Congress to make our laws consistent with medical and scientific fact."
"It is absurd," protested Carlton Blalock, vice president of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, the nation's top tobacco grower for cigarettes.
Statistics show about 40 million smokers nationwide have managed to quit smoking without intervention, which disputes Koop's nicotine addictive claims, Blalock said.