GENEVA — 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.”
The Lausanne lab’s study followed initial research involving players at the 2009 ice hockey world championships played in Switzerland, which showed nearly half were active nicotine users.
Its claims of nicotine’s performance-enhancing qualities have been disputed by golfers, who face increased testing after their sport was included on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics program.
“There is no drug proven that benefits golf,” Darren Clarke, the British Open champion, said this month at a tournament in Switzerland.
Clarke and his European Ryder Cup teammates Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn regularly smoke on the golf course.
WADA can monitor a substance ahead of inclusion on the prohibited list if it meets two out of three criteria for inclusion — enhancing performance, damaging health and breaching the spirit of clean sport.
The report states that nicotine meets all three.