Tag Archives: obama celery

How safe is celery….really…


Judging by the comments on our last post, concerns persist on whether celery is a safe enough substitute for cigarettes. Normally, we would just refer you to our website but it seems we have been remiss in covering this lesser known alternative. But just like e-cigarettes a few years ago, using celery is becoming common enough, and certainly prominent enough with Obama’s seal of approval, so as a precursor to developing a good fact sheet about this, it would be good to cover a couple of points.

(First though an observation and a development regarding Obama’s celery use. Observation: given the sentence “”There’s certainly days where I’ve got to grab a lot of celery sticks to make up for that bad habit that I gave up”” it sounds as though the very seldom smoking previously alluded to was probably a lot more common than was generally conceded. Development: Republicans refused to join Obama in endorsing celery and since the President is unable to pursue any action without consensus, he has now returned to smoking up on the roof of the White House.)

First of all, there is no doubt that using celery is much safer than smoking with the exception of those folks with severe celery allergies. This allergy is less common in North America than in Europe where food labels need to indicate whether they contain any celery but for those who do have it, it can be life threatening.

There has been talk of promoting tomatoes instead of celery for vegetable minded switchers. Not only are tomato allergies almost unknown, since the plant itself is related to the tobacco plant, there is some nicotine which though low level might twig just enough of a response to take the edge of any withdrawal symptoms. And of course, tomato consumption has been linked to lower incidence of cancer. The one worry though is that daily consumption of tomatoes does result in quite the increase in the risk of dementia stemming from being anxious about whether it is really a fruit or a vegetable.

Readers have raised the risk of tinnitus which appears to be too rare to worry about, and possible GI tract aggravation but tomatoes would allay either of these concerns. But the bottom line is that whether you prefer celery or tomatoes they are both preferable to smoking as their consumption is no more risky than using e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco.

One interesting historical note on this. Using celery as an alternative was first proposed in the 70s but became a casualty of a vociferous faction in the burgeoning women’s liberation movement of the time. These activists were particularly anti-smoking due to seeing cigarettes as yet another phallic tools symbolic of male oppression. Women who smoked were considered (by this group) as undermining female expression and female avenues of power and buying into the patriarchy. This did not last very long. An even more vocal group, known as the Virginia Slims, countered that smoking was not capitulation but an appropriation of male hegemony. But by that time, celery use as a smoking substitute was so stigmatized that it virtually disappeared and only resurfaced in the last few years.

-Paul L. Bergen

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Obama criticized for use of unapproved anti-smoking therapy

Reported recently at FoxNews:

US President Barack Obama has a secret weapon in his battle against his smoking habit — celery, he revealed in an interview gaining traction Thursday.

First Lady Michelle Obama said earlier this month that her husband had not smoked a cigarette for almost a year.

In an interview posted late Wednesday, Obama confirmed to 4029tv.com that he had given up smoking for good — however the stresses of being commander-in-chief have seen him adopt a healthier addiction.

“There’s certainly days where I’ve got to grab a lot of celery sticks to make up for that bad habit that I gave up,” Obama said.

The POTUS has joined the legions of ex-smokers who have switched to using celery but officials at the FDA and some of the leading voices in public health warn that celery is not a proven anti-smoking therapy and is not a safe alternative to smoking.

Researcher Thomas Eissenburg who has investigated celery as a cessation aid described the results of that work as being inconclusive and not that promising. “We found smokers who had never used celery before and had them try it but found that most of them found it difficult to get a substantial amount of smoke while drawing on the stalk and subsequent cotinine testing found that not enough nicotine was being gleaned for this to really function as a satisfactory substitute for smoking.

Noted urinanalysis specialist Stefan Hesht warned that it has long been know that celery contains harmful chemicals.

Celery has always been known as a salty plant, containing a high level of what is knows as celery-specific salt, or CSNa. Consumption of CSNa has declared by major health organizations, like the Office of the Mayor of New York, to be a deadly hazard. To put the risk in perspective, if you consumed your entire calorie intake for the day in the form of celery you would eat well over 10 grams of CSNa, more than five times the recommended safe level.

When asked to comment on this, Leif Stock, a spokesman for the celery industry, responded that celery was historically considered salty tasting, but modern research has shown that it is actually contains more potassium, known as the “good salt”. He added that no epidemiology had ever shown a danger from celery and that the only tests of CSNa that had ever suggested any risk were animal tests, such as pouring large quantities of isolated CSNa on a garden slug. He added “when eaten in its natural form, the celery stalk poses no measurable risk, even to slugs.”

When asked to respond to this, Hesht replied:

Look, the fact is that when I test the urine of celery eaters, I find high levels of CSNa! It varies a little depending on where your celery comes from, Swedish celery for instance is quite a bit lower in CSNas but I can still measure it and if I can measure it, that means it cannot be healthy.

Among others commenting on this latest action by the President was Johnathan Winickoff, well known for his tireless advocacy in regards to public safety:

Of course being such an influential figure Obama places us in a difficult spot but the bottom line is that celery has not been submitted to the FDA for testing as a cessation aid. We really have no idea of what the long term effects of daily celery consumption are. Is it safer than smoking? Maybe. Do we know for sure? No, Nobody has done the tests that need to be done. I guess one thing I do know as a pediatrician is that celery seems tailor made for kids.

Roni Rabid, previously at the NYT and now at Legacy said that:

this sets a bad example for the kids. Our research has determined that if children see anything stick-like and particularly anything tubular being put in and out of the mouth, those kids are much more likely to end up smoking. This is why often as not you will see me sitting in the dark with Slanton Glance watching those scenes in those movies so we can better save the kids.

However, Jack Amis of the National Grocers Association said that while celery had no official clearance as a cessation aid, he himself was a previous smoker and was now entering his third year as a smoke-free but daily celery user. He said many celery buyers were former smokers or smokers who were curious about whether this would work for them. “We don’t really see kids buying these things” he added.

The FDA’s Larry Ditton said:

We realize that because Obama is Commander in Chief and thus technically part of the armed forces he is not allowed to use Champix or others of the class that could lead to a psychotic breakdown but it really is just a question of semantics. Champix is a proven cessation aid that has worked for a few people and celery is just a vegetable.

We cannot really promote celery in this regard and anyone who does is contravening WHO guidelines. And given the listeria outbreak of last year, our concern for public health means that we will keep fighting to take celery off the shelves until more testing has been done.

Could arguably the most powerful person in the world do a lot of damage due to an adverse reaction to this drug? Of course, and we or our good friends at Phizer would not feel any responsibility for any such actions but, we still believe that this sets the wrong example when instead of a vegetable he could be using one of the many fine drugs available to help him in these difficult times.

But it is not only presidents looking to this alternative. For those on the street, there are many who have found this to be the answer, at least for the time being. One long time celery user who preferred to remain anonymous said:

Other celery users I know feel a bit of pressure to then give up the celery as well but I don’t plan to. If its not hurting me and I enjoy it, why stop? I think what and the shape of what I put in and out of my mouth is my business and nobody else’s. And you know, I could never go back to smoking. Its just not as fresh and after you’ve used celery for a while you get to liking that crunch. I would miss the crunch.

But if they took it off the shelf. I don’t know. There’s a lot of us now and you take it off the shelves and you’ll just have some shady types setting up a green market, and then all these government types will have managed to do is make criminals out of many of us and back to smoking for the rest.

Nobody wants a President enslaved to Big Tobacco but is the tradeoff thousands of kids taking up the evil weed because they saw the big man on the stalk? Given his prominence this might be one case where a private hidden vice is more in the national interest than publicly flaunting an unproven substitute.

-Paul L. Bergen (with input from Carl V. Phillips)