Nutritional Nicotine

Does smoking tobacco fulfill a nutritional need?

As counter-intuitive as this question might seem, nicotine is actually a nutrient source. It is one form in which we can obtain a vital nutrient: vitamin B3, also called niacin or nicotinic acid.

I have never seen this angle to smoking discussed in a clear form until I came across, through some friends on facebook, a very informative but kind of hidden away write-up by a parent who refused to just accept as fact what “everybody knows” – that kids start to smoke because of tobacco company propaganda.

Ironically, the article was languishing in a place called the CyberCemetery, an archive of government websites that have ceased operation (usually websites of defunct government agencies and commissions that have issued a final report).

The source URL is at

Here is the text…


teenage smoking and tobacco company coverups –, 2/23/01 1:57AM

A cursory study into tobacco use by teenagers appears to have discovered a new door into the causes of teenage smoking. Nicotine has long been accepted as the addictive portion of tobacco products, but what is apparently little known is that nicotine and niacin (vitamin B3) are analogues. An examination into this previously untrod avenue may yield significant new data into the treatment of teenage tobacco use.

Much research has been done establishing that teenagers do use tobacco, but very little has looked into the actual causes and none could be found on E.R.I.C. that has been done from the aspect that tobacco may fulfill a nutritional need.

As a parent of six children and a non-traditional graduate student, adolescent smoking is something I have had to deal with at least six times. As a graduate student with a grounding in communication, it is of primary concern to me, with all the information targeting teen smoking, that there has not been a more significant effect on the target audience — adolescents.

Comedian Bob Hope endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes. American magazine advertisement, 1951.

The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (1998) shows a steady increase in smoking in that while 9% of the children in the 8th grade surveyed admitted to smoking every day, 24.6% of the 12th graders smoke daily. The Federal Interagency Forum offered no answers but did recommend more study.

The statistics would seem to show that Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Festinger, L. 1957) does not apply to smoking. Applying Festinger’s theory, a greater amount of resources dedicated to preventing teen smoking should have led to a greater decrease in teen smoking, but that does not seem to be the case. In fact, the opposite seems to have occurred. The teenagers exposed to the larger amount of anti-smoking information (the 12th Graders) were almost 3 times as likely to be smokers. This led me to ask whether the addictiveness of nicotine might have some influence on why a theory like Festinger’s, so well grounded in other areas, did not seem to work here.

Teenagers use tobacco. That is an established fact. What is up for contention is why do teenagers use tobacco, in spite of all the propaganda cultural pressure aimed at telling them not to. Many court cases have been fought on this issue but there is still little current information due to the mutability of the subject matter, children.

If teenagers’ diets are niacin deficient and their bodies know what their minds don’t ( and their teachers won’t tell them), that niacin and nicotine are the same thing, their bodies would make them crave tobacco as the source of a necessary nutrient, but being a matter of taste, they would not be able to describe it scientifically. An anecdotal reply might be — “I don’t know why I like it; I just do,” with no understanding that it’s fulfilling necessary needs of the nervous system, like orange juice provides antioxidants for the body.. B Complex vitamins are just as important as vitamin C. A lack of vitamin C compromises the immune system; a lack of B vitamins compromises the nervous system.

Another example is Iodine. Iodine is a poison but it is also a necessary nutrient. The body only needs a thimble full of Iodine for a lifetime but without that thimble full a lifetime is only a few years. The endocrine system self destructs without it. A smoker may only get a thimble full of Niacin from a lifetime of smoking (10-20mcg per cigarette), but at least they have that lifetime to discover and correct the problem (poor diet, alcoholism or malabsorptive bowel), which is how to get the Niacin without the other 43 carcinogenic substances the American Cancer Society has identified in Tobacco smoke.

The intention of this study is to discover if teenage tobacco use, smoking and other, may be the result of a niacin deficient diet, not tobacco advertising. There may appear to have been an intentional deception in hiding the fact that niacin and nicotine are basically the same thing, but simply put, it’s because until now there has been no funding to look at tobacco from the point of view of a nutritional function. Tobacco has been used for a wide range of other maladies from Asthma ( Niacin prevents Histamine release Robert Thompson to Bowel obstruction (A Modern Herbal guide 1931).

My argument is that the real cause has been overlooked in the “rush to judgment” and nutritional deficiencies have been misdiagnosed as mere addictions, subject to whim and will. The body needs niacin and it knows nicotine will work if niacin isn’t available. This is not a conscious function.

The objective is to decrease adolescent smoking by removing the dietary deficiency, hence the body’s need for the nicotine. The U.S. RDA for niacin ranges from about 15mg to about 20mg per day, but to get that much a person needs to eat a serving of chicken, a serving of turkey, a serving of Spinach and a bowl of fortified cereal each day or smoke 2 packs of cigarettes.

This shed an entirely new light on the problem of teen smoking. It meant that teens might not be smoking because it was “cool” or because the nicotine was addictive; it might be because tobacco was fulfilling a nutritional deficiency in their diets. Niacin deficiency is common outside the United States and, in its severest form, Pellagra, it can kill. It is rare in this country because since Dr Goldberger discovered niacin as a nutrient in 1895, corn meal and wheat flour have been fortified much the same way as salt is fortified with iodine.

Iodine, as a substance, is a poison, but in very small amounts, it is required by the body for thyroid function and preventing unwanted growths like goiters. A body requires less than a thimbleful of iodine for a lifetime, but without that thimbleful, it doesn’t have a life. Niacin is similar in that it doesn’t take a lot (20 mg RDA) and too much is toxic. A single gram of niacin is toxic to most humans. [Actually, the writer here may have some false information of niacin toxicity. People have been known to take several grams of niacin without any toxic effects. – Sepp]

Niacin, like iodine, is hard to find in the diet without supplementing it somewhere. For example, to receive the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of niacin (20 mg), a person would need to eat 3 servings of poultry, 3 servings of pork and a baked potato with skin to get 20 mg of natural niacin. Other alternatives would include 5 bowls of fortified cereal or 15 servings of french fries. Another problem is that some people with gastrointestinal problems have trouble absorbing niacin, even if it is in the diet.

I realized that there was nothing wrong with Festinger’s Theory; what was wrong was the current view of nicotine as a cultural or behavioral symptom. A person has only 2 choices when it comes to oxygen, do it or die. The same choice applies to niacin and iodine. Without it we die. Lack of niacin or iodine may not be as quick a death as a lack of oxygen, but the results are just as certain.

The result of this information was the formulation of a theory that teenagers may be smoking to fulfill the nutritional need for niacin. In order to test this, a comparison will be done comparing teen smoking and diet. The best way to do this is with a controlled survey of the high schools. If the information from the survey supports that teen smoking has a dietary link, then efforts will be made to improve the nutritional levels of that segment of our society that seems to have the least concern for nutrition, teenagers.

– – –

So much for what I found in that CyberCemetary.

But there is more … Rosemary, a reader who is also a gardener and knows a lot about plant chemistry has added a comment, outlining the history of niacin, and how it was first produced by oxidation of tobacco left-overs. The comment is still there, but she has been good enough to offer the supporting links as well.

So here is the piece by Rosemary, with links…

Organic Chemistry

“1867, Huber provides the first description of nicotinic acid from the oxidization of nicotine. These methods are described by R Laiblin in 1879
(Unfortunately now requires log in)

Organic Synthesis Prep – Method to oxidize nicotine with nitric acid to make Nicotinic acid – 1925

Dr Goldberger then found that Pellagra was a nutritional disease, much to the annoyance of some of the medical establishment of the time who insisted that Pellagra was hereditary, or even a result of eating bad corn.

Goldberger and the “Pellagra Germ”

“Critics, many unable to part from the germ theory of pellagra, raised doubts. Goldberger hoped to squelch those reservations by demonstrating the existence of a particular substance that when removed from the diet of healthy individuals resulted in pellagra.”

“In the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association, critic W.J. MacNeal challenged the results. One Birmingham physician referred to the experiment as “half-baked.” Still others thought the whole experiment a fraud.”

Vol. XVIII No. 1, JULY 1916

“Early in the spring of 1913 the desirability of the study of pellagra from the viewpoint of heredity as a causative factor was brought to the attention of the Thompson-McFadden Pellagra Commission by Dr. Charles B. Davenport, Eugenics Record Office, Cold Spring Harbor, N. Y.”

“Conrad A. Elvehjem, (May 27, 1901�July 27, 1962), was internationally known as a biochemist in nutrition. In 1937 he identified a molecule found in fresh meat and yeast as a new vitamin, nicotinic acid, now called niacin. His discovery led directly to the cure of human pellagra, once a major health problem in the United States.”

“Cure of Experimental Canine Blacktongue with Optimal and Minimal Doses of Nicotinic Acid – 1938”

But of course all this upset the tobacco prohibitionists too so the name was changed in 1942.


“pellagra-preventing vitamin in enriched bread,” 1942, coined from ni(cotinic) ac(id) + -in, chemical suffix; suggested by the American Medical Association as a more commercially viable name than nicotinic acid.

( Expanded )

“The new name was found to be necessary because some anti-tobacco groups warned against enriched bread because it would foster the cigarette habit.” [“Cooperative Consumer,” Feb. 28, 1942]

“Niacin was first discovered from the oxidation of nicotine to form nicotinic acid. When the properties of nicotinic acid were discovered, it was thought prudent to choose a name to dissociate it from nicotine, in order to avoid the perception that vitamins or niacin-rich food contains nicotine. The resulting name ‘niacin’ was derived from nicotinic acid + vitamin.”

“Niacin is also referred to as Vitamin B3 because it was the third of the B vitamins to be discovered. It has historically been referred to as “vitamin PP”, a name derived from the term “pellagra-preventing factor”.

The Nation’s Food – 1941

A necessary vitamin is B a group of at least half a dozen different chemicals. Most radio listeners, said Vice President Wallace last week, know B as the “oomph vitamin, that puts the sparkle in your eye, the spring in your step, the zip in your soul!” Vitamin B is found abundantly in whole wheat and coarse grains, is appreciably reduced in the milling process, when the rough coat is “scalped”‘ from wheat kernel.

Most of the big flour mills and bakers have recently agreed to put vitamin B1; nicotinic acid and iron back into their flour and bread. But experts last week pointed out that such “enriched bread,” although a step forward, was not the ideal solution of the problem.”,9171,795342,00.html

It then became law to enrich bread with nicotinic acid/niacin and for a while this was made from tobacco waste until quinoline, a coal tar derivative, was found to be cheaper and tobacco couldn’t compete.

Effectiveness of food fortification in the United States: the case of pellagra

“Nicotinic Acid Utilization of Tobacco Waste” 1960

“Nicotinic acid was first made by the oxidation of nicotine and Whiffens operated a commercial process in this country starting with tobacco.

Later they were supplied with nicotine by the British Nicotine Company and continued the oxidation.
Finally – before the Second World War – they found they were unable to compete with manufacturers starting from quinoline and picoline although it could be made directly from tobacco waste, from pyridine, some other coal tar bases, nicotine, anabasine, nor-nicotine or mixed tobacco alkaloids.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsored work aimed to make nicotine compete, as early as 1942, but although a new catalytic oxidation process was developed quinoline was still the cheapest source of nicotinic acid.

Comparative costs were published in 1951 by Coal Tar Products of Philadelphia”


“Parmele informed Mr Riefner that work on nicotinic acid could be confirmed free of charge by Dr Elvehjem at the University of Wisconsin. Dr Elvehjam analyzed samples prepared by Parmele by the microbiological assay method of Snell and Wright. The mirobiological method was more specific than the chemical method employed by Parmele. Lower levels of nicotinic acid were found, but Parmele’s essential findings were confirmed”


“The niacin content of unfortified tobacco was found to be 0.13mg per cigarette.”

“Niacin and Niacinamide In Flue Cured Cigarette Smoke Condensate August 10 1960”

But the amount of niacin in cigarette smoke is far less than in a cup of coffee.


I thought you might find these interesting too.

Nicotinic acid – 1941

Dear Sirs,

Referring to the subject of nicotinic acid, or the anti- pellagra vitamin, in cigarette smoke, permit us to state that we have heard from the University of Wisconsin, and are pleased to report that they have confirmed our findings in every respect. In other words, in an aqueous solution of the smoke from ten ordinary Old Golds they find .8 milligram of nicotinic acid,..”page 1

In other words, we analyzed the saliva, which would have otherwise been swallowed. No Nicotinic Acid occurred in the smoker’s saliva before smoking. We feel that we have made this report sufficiently long to cover the discoveries, which we regard as quite remarkable” page2

I found this one languishing in that government archive…

“For more than a year, I have been trying to expose a deep dark secret that threatens to destroy more children on the pretense of protecting them from harm.There are hundreds of anti-smoking and anti-tobacco campaigns claiming to be trying to stop children from using tobacco, and none of them have addressed the root issue of why people smoke or use tobacco.

People use tobacco for the same reason they would eat a candy bar. There is something in it the body wants. That something is not just an “addictive drug” as the rhetoric of the last 50 years has claimed, but actually a necessary nutrient, niacin, vitamin B-3.”

It’s a great pleasure to help to unravel the mystery, it baffled me for quite a while.



Thank you Rose, for your work on this! Even though at this time the data goes against what “everyone knows” about smoking and its dangers, it is a story that needs to be told.

And as we are telling the story here, there is another part to this as well.

Some years ago, when Sir Richard Doll died, another piece of the tobacco puzzle came to light. Sir Doll was a famous English epidemiologist who is known for having established the link between smoking and cancer. He “proved” smoking causes cancer. What he didn’t disclose was, that at the time and for about two decades after, he was being lavishly paid by Monsanto, the large chemical concern that has since distinguished itself as one of the most hated companies in the world…

Sir Richard Doll – Smoking and Cancer Alarm False

Renowned cancer scientist was paid by chemical firm for 20 years

Sir Richard Doll: Death, Dioxin and PVC

So considering Monsanto’s unsavory track record, would it be unreasonable to harbor the suspicion that Sir Doll helped Monsanto protect its chemicals from liability, and falsely blamed tobacco smoke for all the damage?