German Medical Society Proposes Classifying Nicotine Addiction as an Illness

Cigarettes tied together with stringGermany's Federal Medical Society is proposing to classify nicotine addiction as an illness, saying doctors should evaluate and treat heavily addicted smokers the same way they do patients suffering from physical illness. They hope that labeling smokers as being sick will pressure more of them to seek professional help to overcome their addiction. The label may be more than just a strategy, though. In June 1998, the Director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., testified before a Congressional panel that addiction, including nicotine addiction, is now considered to be a chronic, recurring brain disease. German health insurance companies fear the Medical Society's proposal will lead to a spike in smoking-related claims, and are unenthusiastic about paying for medical treatment for something they consider to be a "self-inflicted addiction." About 140,000 German citizens die annually from smoking-related illnesses.