Quitting Nicotine: E-Cigarettes Vs. Tobacco

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Many opponents of e-cigarettes acknowledge the growing mountain of evidence that vaping could be safer than smoking, yet they resist urging tobacco users to switch to e-cigs because they see it as basically trading one addiction for another. Nicotine has always been accused of being the main culprit behind smoking addiction, but is nicotine really all that addicting? Some research suggests it really isn’t as addicting as its reputation claims it to be.

The Truth Behind Nicotine Addiction

The truth about nicotine addiction

Due to its affiliation with tobacco cigarettes, nicotine has been named as a highly addictive substance, as well as the main offender in smoking-related illnesses; however, research has shown that nicotine is not responsible for the majority of serious health risks associated with smoking. Since 1984, the American FDA has approved medical nicotine in the form of gum as a smoking cessation product, and e-cigs work on the same principle. Nonetheless, new research has suggested that e-cigs may not only be less addictive than tobacco cigarettes, but they may be even less addictive than nicotine gums and patches. 

Surveys Say Vaping is Less Addicting than Smoking

Survey shows vaping helps smokers quit tobacco cigarettes

A 2014 study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research details the results of an online survey of 3,600 former smokers who switched to vaping. The participants were asked questions about their former dependence on tobacco compared to their use of e-cigs. On average, respondents reported previously smoking about 24 cigarettes a day, and they reported currently using their e-cig device about 24 times a day; however, further investigation unveiled some significant differences between their past and current behaviors.

Whereas most respondents reported formerly lighting their first cigarette of the day within half an hour of waking, they now waited longer before reaching for their e-cig. Whereas 40 percent of respondents said they used to wake up in the middle of the night to use tobacco, only 7 percent reported doing the same with e-cigs. Most significantly, only 25 percent of participants reported feelings of anxiety or irritability when they are unable to vape; 90 percent remember those strong feeling when they used cigarettes and were unable to smoke.

“The pattern was really very clear,” remarked the study’s main author, Penn State College of Medicine professor Jonathan Foulds. “E-cig users feel less addicted.” Given the varying levels of nicotine content in different e-liquids, Foulds said that more research is necessary to explain the findings; however, he has some theories about why e-cigs seem less addictive than cigarettes.

In early 2015, scientists from the U.S. and Switzerland collaborated on a similar survey that also included former smokers who now chew nicotine gum. Their findings, which can be read in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, claim that not only are e-cigs less addictive than tobacco, but also, “E-cigarettes may be as or less addictive than nicotine gums, which themselves are not very addictive.” 

A Closer Look into the Science of Nicotine

The science of nicotine

A 2014 study in the Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology medical journal found that e-cig vapor contains 85 percent less nicotine than cigarette smoke. So, even if vapers are using their e-cigs with the same frequency as cigarettes, they are likely still consuming less nicotine, which would explain why tobacco withdrawal is so much worse than e-cig withdrawal. When smokers light up a cigarette, they usually smoke the entire thing in one sitting. With e-cigs, users can puff at their leisure without a sense of urgency, so they are likely getting smaller amounts of nicotine in intervals rather than in large doses. As Foulds puts it, “It’s kind of like they’re grazing on [nicotine] rather than binging on it.”

Another study published in the Tobacco Control journal in 2015 found some very surprising results in relation to the addictive nature of nicotine. The authors found that it actually has “poor reinforcing effects when administered alone”. In other words, nicotine in its purest form appears to have less addicting properties, if any at all, compared to the combination of nicotine with other additives such as those found in cigarette tobacco.

While the results of studies such as those mentioned above have contradicted the theory that nicotine is highly addicting, other studies have found that the substance may even carry some therapeutic benefits. From the treatment of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to improving cognitive functions and memory retention, nicotine could very well be an overlooked wonder drug.

Related: Could Nicotine Have Therapeutic Uses?

The Differences Between Vaping and Smoking

The difference between vaping and smoking

Aside from the difference in ingredients, one of the main differences between vaping and smoking is the e-cig user’s ability to have greater control over their nicotine intake. For example, White Cloud selection of nicotine strengths allows e-cig users to choose their level of nicotine intake and even step down in strengths until they are completely nicotine-free. Many White Cloud customers have reported great success with this method, and since this is not an option with tobacco cigarettes, it is quite clear that electronic cigarettes may be the way to go for those who choose to be nicotine-free.