Why Nicotine Isn't the Enemy
Tue 10 May 2016
“Aren’t cigarettes terrible, all that nicotine giving people cancer and heart attacks. Oh and those e-cigarettes, they’re just as bad” is what a lot of people think.
Wrong, I’m afraid.
Although nicotine is one of the main reasons why smokers find it so hard to give up the habit, the substance itself is actually fairly harmless when compared to what else can be found in cigarette smoke.
As a drug, nicotine is very similar to caffeine. It can cause alertness and act as a stimulant. However, it can also be a suppressant and make users feel more relaxed.
The thing that makes nicotine so addictive is the delivery. Unlike caffeine which is absorbed through the intestine, nicotine taken in smoke or vapour is absorbed through the lungs. This means that it gets to the brain in as little as 20 seconds. The brain enjoys this. It enjoys it so much in fact that many people consider it to me more addictive than heroin. Ever heard of someone getting addicted to nicotine gum? Neither have we. That’s because the nicotine ‘hit’ is so much weaker when it’s absorbed through the skin.
The truth is that it’s the other horrid chemicals in tobacco cigarettes that give people cancer, heart attacks, nasty diseases and cost healthcare systems and individuals billions worldwide.
Tar for example damages the cilia in your lungs, making breathing more difficult and long term exposure can lead to bronchitis and other unpleasant lung diseases.
Then there’s carbon monoxide, ammonia, formaldehyde, arsenic, lead, butane, acetone and about 3000 more.
Yes, some tests on e-cigarettes have found harmful chemicals. However, these tests have often been done in unrealistic conditions, and the volume of chemicals found have been a fraction of what we know are in cigarette smoke.
Nicotine clearly isn’t the killer in tobacco cigarettes, so why are e-cigarettes and e liquids being regulated so heavily by bodies like the European Union and FDA? After all, there’s usually only 4 ingredients in e liquid, unlike the many thousands in tobacco.
Like it or not, there are millions of people all over the world already addicted to nicotine. And it’s tobacco that has introduced these people to the drug. The links between e-cigarettes and nicotine dependency are weak at best, as is the theory that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco.
Protecting children is a reason often used to justify regulating vapour products. But let's be honest. Despite all the health warnings and taxes, there’s always going to be intrigue, peer pressure and a coolness factor associated with cigarettes that drive children into using them. For most smokers, the habit was picked up in their teenage years.
If you’re a parent reading this, ask yourself: If my child were to try a cigarette, would I prefer that cigarette to be tobacco or electronic? Obviously, you’d prefer them not to try either. But between the two? Given what we know about the dangers. It’s not a difficult decision.
Politicians and regulators are looking at the issue of tobacco harm and seeing nicotine as part of the problem. Vapers are looking at the issue of tobacco harm and see nicotine as part of the solution.