E cigarette smoke and vaping

You might have heard about the use of e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) or use them yourself. There has also been a considerable amount of discussion about vaping, which is the practice of using e-cigarettes by inhaling and exhaling.

Is vaping addictive? It’s a valid question, especially since using regular cigarettes that contain nicotine is highly addictive. To answer this question, let’s explore what e-cigarettes are and how they work.

According to Smokefree.gov, “E-cigs work by heating a liquid that has nicotine and other chemicals in it. Heating the liquid turns it into a vapor. That’s what the user inhales and exhales.”

Is Nicotine Addictive?

It depends on who you ask. The U.S. government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that nicotine is indeed addictive: “Most smokers use tobacco regularly because they are addicted to nicotine.”

Nicotine is extremely addictive in the view of some researchers. “Heroin addicts say it is easier to give up dope [heroin] than it is to give up smoking,” according to Dr. Sharon Hall, who served as a researcher and psychology professor and studied ways to prevent substance abuse.

Smoking and using other substances often go hand-in-hand. A report published in the journal Addiction found that 84 percent of people seeking treatment for alcohol and drug abuse were smokers. The same report reported that only 31 percent of people in the general population were smokers.

Other sources list nicotine among their lists of most addictive substances. Like other drugs such as heroin or hydrocodone, nicotine attaches to receptors in the brain. These receptors are known as nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs).

The receptors are similar to other brain receptors, such as γ-aminobutyric acid (gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA) receptors. When substances bind to GABA receptors, it can relax people or make them high. Similarly, people might experience a sense of relaxation if they engage their nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs).

Smoking, vaping, or using other nicotine products creates more nicotine receptors in the brain. Researchers believe that’s why it’s so difficult for nicotine users to stop using. The extra receptors aren’t receiving nicotine, so they crave it and the brain and the body produce withdrawal symptoms, which might include:

  • Craving
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems

These symptoms might prompt people to use nicotine products again.

Wait, Nicotine ISN’T Addictive?

Meanwhile, an article published in Discover magazine says that nicotine isn’t addictive. This article contends that other chemicals make tobacco products such as cigarettes so addictive.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine and other chemicals. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report that claimed that e-cigarettes might be safer than traditional cigarettes.

The organization also questioned whether teens and young people would transition from using e-cigarettes to using traditional types of tobacco products, such as regular cigarettes. But, the organization concluded, it couldn’t answer the question “Is vaping addictive” because researchers haven’t conducted long-term studies on vaping.

What Are the Health Hazards of Using Nicotine?

Addictive or not, using nicotine is a major health hazard. An average of 435,000 U.S. residents die prematurely every year because of smoking-related issues, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Vaping, too, might create its own problems, including:

  • Chronic bronchitis, a condition known as smoker’s cough
  • Damage to special cells known as fibroblasts that help repair wounds
  • Possible permanent lung damage

Some teenage vapers might think that vaping is safer and poses no health risks, but these symptoms prove otherwise. Vaping and e-cigarettes may not come in traditional cigarette, cigar, or chewing tobacco form, but it might cause health hazards.

In fact, the form and content of e-cigarettes may further obscure the true nature and true danger of the products. E-cigarettes sometimes have additives with special flavors, such as fruit.

The flavor apparently attracts young people, as “81% of current youth e-cigarette users cited the availability of appealing flavors as the primary reason for use” in 2013-14, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who also claimed that “[m]ore than 2 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2016.”

The fruity flavors may fool people into thinking that e-cigarettes aren’t harmful. Users may believe that if vape tastes like fruit or candy, it can’t be harmful or addictive, but these assumptions could be dangerously wrong.

Are There Safer Alternatives?

Not all e-cigarettes have nicotine. Some people may believe that these vaping products are safer, but again, they might be mistaken.

Many flavored e-cigarettes have flavoring chemicals known as acetyl propionyl and diacetyl, two chemicals recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) to eat. But, the FDA questions whether such chemicals are safe to inhale.

Discussing studies of people exposed to diacetyl in the workplace, the FDA concludes that “Overall, current evidence points to diacetyl as one agent that can cause flavorings-related lung disease.” Vaping can expose users to such dangerous chemicals.

People can adjust the amount of nicotine or flavoring in their e-cigarettes, but they’re still ingesting chemicals and might not know exactly what they’re using. Whether smoking and vaping are truly addictive or not, they can be truly harmful.