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New Evidence that Vaping Nicotine is Less Addictive than Smoking It

Opponents of vaping have been fond of saying that e-cigarettes are just as addictive as combustible smokes, because they contain addictive nicotine. They have never seemed to feel the need to produce any evidence for this supposition. Nicotine is nicotine, right? And nicotine is addictive, right? Enough said. End of story.

Wrong? It is becoming increasingly clear, indeed, now beyond doubt, that the addictive capacity of nicotine delivered by e-cigarettes is significantly lower, because of the way it is delivered to the bloodstream. A new study by Thomas Eissenberg and J. F. Etter, just out this week in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, clinches this, although it was already evident in Eissenberg's earlier work and in work by Schroeder Institute scientists Nathan and Caroline Cobb.

Etter and Eissenberg contrasted groups of smokers and dual users, ex-smokers who vape, ex-smokers who chew nicotine gum, vapers using e-liquid containing nicotine, and vapers using nicotine-free e-liquid. They found the dependency levels of the vaping and chewing ex-smokers to be about the same, both significantly lower than those of smokers. One striking finding was that dependency levels for vapers vaping nicotine and vapers vaping zero-nicotine e-liquid were surprisingly close. This would seem to suggest that behavioral factors are crucially important in the success of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation.

The higher addictive potential of nicotine administered through burning tobacco appears to be the result of “alveolar deposition”, which gets the nicotine to the brain much more quickly than does a vaporizer, according to an article in The Lancet by Nathan and Caroline Cobb, and another by Nathan Cobb and Schroeder Institute Director David Abrams. “Available data indicate the current generation of electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine through the oral mucosa or upper airways, resulting in slow venous uptake like NRT, but in highly varying quantities. For now there is no evidence that these products produce the abrupt, addictive spike in arterial concentrations that results from alveolar nicotine delivery in tobacco smoke.”

Not to be ignored is the vigorous work of Big Tobacco to enhance alveolar deposition and thus raise the addictive potential of smokes. “Let's face it,” says Michael Siegel, “the cigarette companies have perfected the method to most efficiently and consistently deliver nicotine to the user in a way that maximizes addictive potential.”

Siegel suggests that the new Etter/Eissenberg study may “allay fears” of e-cigarette opponents that vaping will create a new generation of nicotine addicts. Would that it were so! Alas, the minds of e-cigarette opponents seem to be made up. Don't trouble them with facts. The road to harm reduction may still lead uphill.

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