Thank you for smoking

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You are caught red-handed by your boss in a haze of blue fug, skulking in a crowded smoking room, huddled over a disgusting ashtray indulging in one of the last mortal sins still legal.

Skiving, boss? Not me, boss, you chirp smugly. I'm merely helping my brain process information rapidly and boosting the transmission of my nerve impulses through it. Your boss looks bemused. In layman's terms you're having a cigarette.

Henry G Strauss (lawyer, politician and MP) once said that he had every sympathy with the American who was so horrified by what he read of the effects of smoking that he gave up reading. But Mr Strauss would have been greatly cheered by the research published in the science journal Nature yesterday which claimed nicotine can be beneficial for the brain.

Compulsory smoking in the workplace could be one of the defining breakthroughs of the 21st century. In these days of multi-skilling, delayering, downsizing and downshifting, companies need the most alert and perspicacious staff they can get. And (according to research done at the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas) nicotine appears to mimic the effect of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that stimulates the release of other chemicals enabling nerve cells to communicate.

So by allowing - no, making - their employees claim 20 Camel Lights a day on expenses, bosses could ensure rapid information processing, working memory enhancement and attention span lengthening: all for less than pounds 3 a day. If your managers fail to be convinced, tell them smokers are also the only workers who take regular screen breaks, selflessly saving their companies millions in repetitive strain injury claims.

Looking to the long term, forms of dementia are far less common in smokers, so employees will be able to keep working longer without succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. Admittedly health risks - heart disease and lung cancer - are the major downers when it comes to smoking. So along with the daily allowance of carbon monoxide and tar, make sure your bosses heed the latest advice from scientists in California who advocate sugar- laden, fat-rich chocolate washed down with a glass of red wine as a powerful protector against heart disease.

When health and safety executives challenge the party atmosphere, simply inform them that red wine and chocolate contain chemicals known as phenols, which prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins ("good" blood fats) into a more dangerous form that clogs up the coronary arteries. And if, after a few glasses, you manage to say that sentence without slurring, any doubting executive will retire vanquished and impressed.