Use of the Epigenetic Smoking Status Estimator (EpiSmokEr) — a machine learning classifier — appears to capture relevant smoking-related biologic effects on the lungs. These are among study findings recently published in Respiratory Medicine.
Epigenetic Smoking Status Estimator detects individuals’ exposure to smoking by measuring changes in their DNA, predicting smoking phenotypes based on DNA methylation levels. It is well known that tobacco smoke alters DNA methylation at thousands of CpG [cytosine–guanine] sites in nucleated blood cells, with some of these sites localized to genes that are association with inflammation and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Recognizing that smoking-induced epigenetic alterations may represent a useful biomarker of smoking-linked damage, the researchers sought to assess the associations of phenotypes predicted by Epigenetic Smoking Status Estimator vs self-reported smoking phenotypes with lung function and all-cause mortality in a cohort of older adults.
The investigators conducted an analysis of the prospective, longitudinal, population-based US Veteran Affairs Normative Aging Study, in which DNA methylation measurements were obtained between 1999 and 2012, with follow-up reported through 2016. All participants also completed questionnaires related to lifestyle factors. Read more here.
The End of the Illusion That Smoking Is a Choice
The Food and Drug Administration recently proposed lowering the nicotine content in cigarettes to less addictive levels. If adopted, this regulation would finally test one of the tobacco industry’s favorite claims: that smoking is a choice. Portraying smoking as a willful, personal decision has long allowed tobacco companies to promote cigarettes even while acknowledging their deadly risks. But the paradigm of individual choice has also guided cigarette regulation, ironically strengthening the industry’s key talking point — until now.
Nicotine is the addictive element in a cigarette. By reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes, federal regulations will, for the first time, address the key driver of cigarette consumption, which claims 480,000 American lives each year. Nicotine’s effects are particularly acute in adolescence, which is when most smokers start.
Tobacco companies have long understood that physiological dependence on nicotine — or what executives preferred to call nicotine satisfaction — was central to their business. Since the 1960s, the tobacco industry has manipulated ammonia levels in cigarettes to enhance nicotine’s effects. As one cigarette company research director commented in 1954, “It’s fortunate for us that cigarettes are a habit they can’t break.”
Publicly, tobacco’s advocates have argued that smoking is a choice of free, responsible adults. As early as 1929, the United States Patent Office granted patents to engineers who had devised processes for denicotinizing tobacco. But as one 1935 American Tobacco Company pamphlet reassured its readers, “The makers of Lucky Strike cigarettes deliberately refrain” from these techniques because “such removal of nicotine produces an emasculated product, shorn of the very qualities which give a cigarette character and appeal.” Selling the cigarette has always involved selling both the illusion of choice and a product designed to preclude it. Read more here.