SMOKING causes a third of cancer deaths, but quitting brings immediate benefit. In fact, someone who quits before the age of 50 is half as likely to die of cancer in the subsequent 15 years as he would be if he kept smoking. The trick, then, is helping people quit. With that goal in mind, Cytos Biotechnology, in Zurich, has, as it announced to the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting held last week in Florida, made progress in developing a vaccine against nicotine. Normally, when someone smokes a cigarette, the nicotine in it is carried to his brain in the bloodstream. Once there, it stimulates a neural circuit that provides a sensation of pleasure. That sensation reinforces the desire for another cigarette, making it hard to relinquish the habit. The idea of a nicotine vaccine is to stop the drug getting to the brain in the first place. People who are vaccinated should develop antibodies that bind to the nicotine in their bloodstreams, disabling it. If no nicotine reaches the brain, there will be no pleasurable reward for having a cigarette. So vaccinated individuals should?in theory?be less likely to relapse. This approach is not unique to nicotine. Vaccines against cocaine, another addictive recreational drug, are also being developed. But the results announced in Orlando suggest that Cytos's nicotine vaccine is now the closest to being deployed.
I suppose the idea of a vaccine that inoculates you against illicit stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain has some Big Brotherish overtones. On the other hand, I am so tired of being a dupe of the evil empire of tobacco, mired in mental slavery. I volunteer! Dropping my pants now. What? In the arm? Well, all right.