Controlled Smoking: Implications for Research on Tobacco Use

By Kolte, Birgitta; Schmidt-Semisch, Henning | Journal of Drug Issues, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Controlled Smoking: Implications for Research on Tobacco Use


Kolte, Birgitta, Schmidt-Semisch, Henning, Journal of Drug Issues


CONTROLLED SMOKING: IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH ON TOBACCO USES

Tobacco might be the most widespread "Genussmittel" (a good that is defined in terms of its users' intentions to enjoy, relish its taste, effects, etc.; "Genuss" in the world. But even though the use of tobacco is primarily motivated by an expectation of "Genuss,"within recent years the main public focus has turned to the problematic aspects of smoking. In the years after World War II concerns were directed toward the harms of tobacco. Then - starting in the 1980s- the discourse on harm changed into a discourse on (nicotine) addiction. This article outlines a prospective research project concerned with the way the addiction discourse continuously reproduces current patterns of "addicted smoking" in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

LEGAL AND ILLEGAL DRUGS: A CONTRARY DEVELOPMENT

The drug policies of nearly all countries distinguish between the licit status of some psychoactive substances and the illicit status of others. This separation generally leads to the situation where licit drugs are associated with positive effects (sociability, coziness, culture), while illicit drugs are linked to rather negative characteristics (dependency, addiction, severe suffering, etc.). Even though both points of view might contain a kernel of truth, they still lean toward one-sided interpretations because of their tendency to generalize.

Developments in recent years have obscured the clear and obvious differentiation between legal and illegal drugs. With regard to illicit drugs, policy increasingly takes into account less repressive measures, especially in the establishment of harm reduction strategies. It is regarding licit drugs - on the national as well as international levels - that more restrictive measures and laws are being considered or have already been implemented, especially those pertaining to tobacco use. In this context, a contrary development may also be observed regarding the models and theories used by politicians and scientists to deal with the different substances. Because of the influence of critical drug research, there is - regarding illicit drugs - an increasing tendency to disregard the traditional rigid dichotomy between addiction vs. abstinence, a fundamental questioning of the concept of dependence and addiction (Herwig-Lempp, 1994; Schmidt-Semisch, 1997). As a result, there has been increasing research attention paid to so-called controlled (Gerlach, 1992), nondependent (Zinberg, 1979), or recreational ("genussvoll," Schmidt-Semisch, 1994) forms of use. In much of Europe, these trends have corresponded with the adoption of harm reduction approaches as legitimate aspects of official prevention efforts (see, for example, the recent implementation of health [injection] rooms by the German government or the provision of heroin prescriptions in Switzerland [Uchtenhagen et al., 2000]).

In sharp contrast, tobacco policy reflects the exact opposite development: Since the 1950s enormous scientific efforts have been undertaken to learn more about the nature and extent of the harms that tobacco use might induce (the tobacco industry has reacted by reducing the amount of tar and nicotine in its products, which could lead to a reduction in the harmfulness of these substances, as long as smokers do not compensate for these changes by smoking more or holding the smoke in their lungs for a longer time). We can observe that since the early 1970s, and especially since the 1980s, the focus has shifted more and more toward the "potential of addiction" of tobacco. Earlier, Hess (1987, p. 174) complained that "in the discourse about tobacco (...) and in the discourse concerning illegal drugs (...) two different tongues were at work, so to speak a "Genussmittel"-tongue on the one side and a narcotics-tongue on the other, and both discourses were being held separately."2 Today, however, it has become commonplace to characterize tobacco as "addictive," to add discussions of its effects to the agendas of congresses on addiction (Zerdick, 2000), to identify nicotine as a major theme in addiction journals (like Sucht, 2000; Suchtmagazin, 2001), and to talk of "tobacco," or more specifically "nicotine addiction" (see Batra, 2000; Opitz, 2000). …

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