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The Upside of Cigarettes

New research suggests that nicotine may hold the key to weight loss medicine. That, and other reasons cigarettes aren't all bad.

"The Upside of..." is a new series that uncovers surprising benefits of things universally panned for being unhealthy and/or bad for the environment. Basically, it makes you feel a little less guilty about your vices.

Cigarettes have been getting a bad rap for decades, on up through this month's four-part series at The Incidental Economist about the social costs of smoking ($40 a pack, if you were wondering). And yes, nearly all of the criticism is deserved. Fortunately, though, there are a few reasons to feel not-so-bad about the existence of cigarettes.

Nicotine may hold the key to weight loss medicine. Scientists at Yale University and the Baylor College of Medicine have found nicotine receptors in the brains of mice that seem to influence appetite. The researchers found that when nicotine binds to this particular receptor, certain neurons in the hypothalamus section of our brains are activated. That gives them hope for a weight loss drug that specifically targets this pathway. Not only that, but it could alleviate nicotine withdrawal. (Although this last plus might not count as a benefit, since we wouldn't need it if cigarettes didn't exist in the first place!)

Smoking keeps you on your toes. A big reason people smoke is to focus. Some studies show that nicotine can indeed increase motor skills, alertness, and short term memory. Like the weight loss research, these findings have spurred scientists to look into medicines that mimic nicotine but ditch the tar.

Cigarettes are a perfect excuse to get out of an insufferable conversation. Now that a good amount of cities have outlawed smoking in bars (good!) there's now one less way to get out of a painful convo with a stranger (bad—the bathroom excuse only works once). Even if you don't actually have a cigarette, at least saying you're having one will buy you five minutes.

Cigarettes are still kind of cool. Sorry, but they are.

photo (cc) by Flickr user lanier67

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