The battle rages on between medical professionals and smokers as they continue to develop newer – supposedly more effective – methods to help people to kick the habit. Government incentives and health warnings have done little so far to stop a substantial number of smokers from quitting, but a new vaccine currently in development could stop people from ever starting to smoke if they are immunised as teenagers.
The new vaccine will work by making the body produce nicotine antibodies which would stop the drug from reaching the brain and creating a pleasurable sensation. The theory is that this would discourage young people from wanting to smoke in the first place and help smokers to quit.
The vaccine is currently still being tested on laboratory mice and it is not clear whether its effects could be replicated in humans. Professor Ronald Crystal, lead researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College where the study was undertaken, said: "We are very hopeful that this kind of vaccine strategy can finally help the millions of smokers who have tried to stop, exhausting all the methods on the market today, but find their nicotine addiction to be strong enough to overcome these current approaches."
The idea is that in the future the vaccine will be included with the other immunisations (including polio, diphtheria and tetanus) that are given to teenagers at school. But even if it is approved, is vaccinating children in order to stop them from enjoying something in the future ethical?
The teenagers who are given this vaccine will not be required to consent, as their parents will be able to do so for them. And although making them unable to enjoy nicotine may end up saving their lives in the long run, given all the health problems associated with smoking, the issue lies in whether the drastic difference that this type of genetic vaccination will make to a person’s body and free will is worth it, given the other options available .
The nicotine in cigarettes is one of the most highly addictive substances known to man and a relatively low percentage of people manage to quit, despite the high cost and often fatal health problems it can cause. However, medically forcing people to be unable to enjoy smoking seems like an extreme measure that should be very carefully considered.
One fifth of adults in the UK smoke, but over half of the people who try to quit are either unsuccessful or end up relapsing. This new method could be a solution to the problem as it will remove any desire to smoke and stop people from deriving pleasure from nicotine.
If approved, this would be a scientific breakthrough and could help millions of people to quit. Certainly it should be considered an option for consenting adults, but the implications of genetically modifying the way your brain reacts to certain chemicals are vast and should not be taken lightly. Above all, never imposed on young people who do not have a say in the matter.