Another disease sugar helps promote: Lung cancer

Joe Camel didn't want you to know about the secret ingredient to his success. 

Before 1900 there were only 150 reported cases of lung cancer in the United States, a rather low number given that humans had been consuming tobacco leaves for millennia. Cultivation sites were discovered in Mexico dating back 3,400 years, and it was traded globally for centuries.

Camel cigarettes were introduced in 1913. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco had the peculiar notion of blending tobaccos. The following year four hundred cases of lung cancer were diagnosed. That number went up seven times over the next sixteen years. By 2005, Gary Taubes writes, 163,000 Americans died of the disease. What happened?


In The Case Against Sugar, Taubes goes to great lengths to honor scientific principles. Large-scale studies on sugar's role in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are challenging, as the carbohydrate appears to be a dosage-dependent chronic toxin. It takes decades and thousands upon thousands of instances of ingestion to show its terrifying results. No research institutions are equipped to handle such an investigation; too many variables to adjust for exist in such numbers.

Yet it's obvious that sugar plays a, if not the, primary role in metabolic disease, which unfolds into a host of other issues—experts predict 75 million Americans currently suffer from this precursor to diabetes. According to Taubes, millions of smokers worldwide likely became hooked due to a sugar soaking of their cigarettes.

For most of history cigarettes were not the most popular vehicles for tobacco ingestion. Chewing tobacco, cigars, and pipes were the dominant modes of delivery. In the 1860s the tobacco industry began flue-curing (instead of air-curing) tobacco leaves, making inhalation more palatable. This method, it turns out, is deadly.

Tobacco that begins with a relatively high carbohydrate content (up to 50 percent of dry weight) but is low in sugar (3 percent) ends up as much as 22 percent sugar, sucrose specifically.

Inhaling pipe and cigar smoke is impossible for most smokers as the product is largely alkaline. Sugar-rich tobacco creates acidic smoke, allowing smokers to toke harder and longer, sending it deeper into their lungs.

When sugar content increases, nicotine actually decreases. It also makes nicotine less absorbable. The lower the nicotine the less enjoyable (and addictive) the cigarette is. The lower the sugar the harder to smoke—a disagreeable conundrum for companies selling cigarettes.

Hello sugar sauce. Tobacco farmers realized that the heartier, nicotine-rich Burley tobacco easily absorbed sugar while drying. A sugar solution was created from a host of sweet stuff—honey, licorice, molasses, fruit syrups, maple syrup. Chewing tobaccos gained flavor. And addicts.

Which is what R.J. Reynolds realized when manufacturing Camels. By the time the Great Depression was about to commence the industry was using “fifty million pounds of sugar a year and using it in over 120 billion cigarettes."

The confusing antics of Big Sugar are eerily similar to previous efforts by tobacco lobbyists, for good reason: it's using the same playbook. Sugar groups claim weight gain is the result of sedentary habits and overeating, utilizing the disproven idea that 'a calorie is a calorie,' as well as a false equivalency with dietary fats.

Like fundamentalist religious groups inventing a 'debate' between creationism and evolutionary biology, then sneaking it into public schools (or arguing for charter schools not subject to the same pesky regulations), sugar companies have a vested interest in keeping people consuming the sweet stuff, advertising it through misinformation and nutritional confusion.

All the while they knew what they were doing. Taubes concludes,

The cigarette industry could have made cigarettes that were harder to inhale… and so the nicotine would have been less addictive, but then they'd have sold fewer cigarettes and hooked fewer smokers.

The top issue in America right now is health care: who has it, what we're paying, how effective coverage is, and who is about to lose it if the ACA is repealed. In the larger spectrum of our health, we have to own up to the fact that many of our 'Western diseases' are self-inflicted. The fault is not entirely our own—corporate interests with large advertising accounts have trumped scientific analysis and honest research for generations. Where Big Money is, Big Misinformation and Big Confusion trail closely behind.

But we can't escape the fact that obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and lung cancer share a similar catalyst, a carbohydrate marketed as benign that has in actuality wreaks havoc on our bodies and brains. The first step in addiction recovery is admitting we have a problem. Until we do recovery is impossible, and Big Sugar laughs all the way to the bank.


Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/4/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.