Unanticipated use and value of cigarettes: Endurance training

Cigarettes are useful for different purposes. Perhaps the best purpose is suggested in this study:

Cigarettes may be useful for distance runners?!? (or, How to prove anything with a review article),”

Last winter the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a fascinating article by Ken Myers discussing the (as-yet unexamined) benefits of cigarette smoking on endurance running performance. Ken is a friend and elite distance runner (we used to literally run with the same crowd while I was doing my undergrad in Calgary) so I was very excited and a bit confused when I saw his article. Could smoking really be beneficial for distance runners like myself? … the point of Ken’s article was to illustrate how you can fashion a review article to support almost any crazy theory if you’re willing to cherry-pick the right data.

Myers’s monograph is:

Cigarette smoking: an underused tool in high-performance endurance training,” Kenneth A. Myers, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2010 December 14; 182(18): E867–E869. The abstract says:

The review paper is a staple of medical literature and, when well executed by an expert in the field, can provide a summary of literature that generates useful recommendations and new conceptualizations of a topic. However, if research results are selectively chosen, a review has the potential to create a convincing argument for a faulty hypothesis. Improper correlation or extrapolation of data can result in dangerously flawed conclusions. The following paper seeks to illustrate this point, using existing research to argue the hypothesis that cigarette smoking enhances endurance performance and should be incorporated into high-level training programs.

(HT Deborah Blum)