The World Anti-Doping Agency can take the first steps toward classifying nicotine as a performance-enhancing drug on Saturday, when it meets to update its list of substances prohibited in sport.
WADA has received a report from its accredited laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, that describes “alarming evidence” of nicotine use by athletes across 43 sports studied. “WADA and sport federations should evaluate the inclusion of nicotine to the Prohibited List or/and Monitoring Program,” the Lausanne lab reported after a year-long study published by the Forensic Science International journal.
The performance-enhancing effects of nicotine included increased “vigilance and cognitive function,” and reduced stress and body weight. “Interestingly, nicotine also triggers a significant increase of pulse rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and epinephrine release owing to simultaneous stimulant and relaxant properties,” the report said.
“Smokeless tobacco is a very attractive drug from a doping perspective,” researchers suggested, because it did not damage an athlete’s breathing and respiratory system. The WADA ruling panel is meeting in Lausanne to weigh changes in the status of doping products and methods that will come into force in January.
Nicotine is among a number of readily available substances, including caffeine and Viagra, to have been evaluated for potential doping effects. Tests on 2185 urine samples in Lausanne found 15 percent of athletes actively used nicotine, compared to 25 percent of the general population.
However, athletes in ice hockey, gymnastics, rugby and skiing rated as above-average users of nicotine, while 19 percent of soccer players samples showed traces “before or/and during sport practice.” The report stated that “these statistics bring a very significant support to the hypothesis of smokeless tobacco use as a performance enhancer.”