Nicotine is NOT the Devil – What You Should Know
That’s right! Nicotine is not the devil. Let’s be honest with ourselves; everything comes with a certain level of risk. For instance, going to a doctor for care could wind up killing you, driving a car is more dangerous than handling a firearm, high school sports kill more U.S. citizens than terrorists do, binge drinking kills more people than all other drugs combined, and food poisons more people than carbon monoxide. Yet, most of us have seen a doctor, driven a car, played high school sports, done our share of binge drinking, and all of us have eaten. And guess what? We are all still here. Ironically, most things are considered “normal” and safe in moderation.
I want to use carbon monoxide, for example. We are surrounded by it. Carbon monoxide is produced during incomplete combustion of any fuel like natural gas, charcoal, gasoline, kerosene, wood, gas, oil, or even coal. It comes from things like a running vehicle or even your furnace. Yet, in the minds of many, carbon monoxide is up there with things like tar, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, and arsenic. This is probably because these are all known chemicals found in cigarettes, and people have been trying to demonize cigarette smoking. We get it! I’m sure all of us know by now that cigarettes are really bad for our health.
Of course, this usually is where I introduce some great irony to drive a point home. Here is a couple. The first would be how we don’t see too many people frowning upon their neighbors for running their furnaces, having a BBQ, or driving their cars (all of which produce carbon monoxide). Still, we’ll give bad looks to the guy smoking a cigarette while sitting out in front of a restaurant as though he just ran over your dog. Perhaps it’s because of all the bad things cigarette smoke can do to someone. It’s hard to say, but the second would be that obesity kills more people than tobacco, and most people have no problem having a fast-food joint on every corner of America.
I know cigarettes are harmful, and we shouldn’t be smoking. This fact is not in dispute. However, I have a problem when a conversation about cigarettes arises. The problem that I have is that when we hear the word “nicotine,” we think of cigarettes. When we think “cigarettes,” we think about how cigarette smoke has over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing compounds and hundreds of other toxins. That’s a lot of chemicals and carcinogens.
This is a problem for me because nicotine (an alkaloid) gets lumped into the dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes. The two simply shouldn’t be confused. This is irresponsible, and to be quite honest; it’s ignorant. For me, that’s like demonizing everything containing caffeine just because soda companies use brominated vegetable oil or high-fructose corn syrup. Think about it like this; if we were going to demonize everything nicotine can be found in, we would have to stop consuming things like tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and cauliflower. I’m just guessing that most are not willing to do that.
Yes, nicotine can be addictive, but many things are addictive. Caffeine is addictive. Alcohol is addictive. Studies have shown that alcohol is one of the most addictive substances you can put in your body. Experts say that alcohol abuse is more harmful than crack or heroin abuse. Statistics show that alcohol has a death rate of over 3 million per year. See what I’m getting at?
But of course, it’s not all bad! I’m sure you know by now that caffeine has health benefits. If you don’t, then know that these include increased memory and increases in logical reasoning, detoxification of the liver, hair growth, increased stamina, protection against cataracts, reducing skin cancer, helping asthma victims, and so on. Likewise, I’m sure you know that a glass of wine can also benefit the body. I won’t list them here, but the point is that we could probably do this all day with various addictive substances or practices. What I want you to understand is that used appropriately, nicotine has a few benefits to boast as well.
A recent study published in the Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews suggests that nicotine could work as an effective antidepressant. That’s impressive, considering that it could potentially help the estimated 16.1 million adults in the United States that had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. But that’s just the latest in a long line of studies that demonstrate a benefit. A 2008 study showed that nicotine patches could be effective in treating ADHD; a 2012 study demonstrated that nicotine could help with memory loss. In fact, studies going back as far as the late ’60s and ’70s demonstrate that people that consumed nicotine were less likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease than those that didn’t. This list goes on and on, and they are constantly discovering new benefits. Examples include things like being an effective anti-inflammatory or helping the gut. Or how about controlling weight or repairing tissue? Or how about the fact that it can help with Schizophrenia and Tourette’s?
So very similar to how we don’t want to demonize caffeine just because it is in pop, we shouldn’t demonize nicotine just because it can be found in cigarettes. Demonize the pop and demonize the cigarettes, but don’t frown upon those that choose to chew nicotine gum or vape any more than you demonize those that choose to have a hot coffee with their breakfast or a glass of wine with their dinner.
I know this is probably hard to accept for some. You probably want to hear it from someone other than myself, just to be sure. Consider this; a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirmed that e-cigarettes are much less dangerous than previously thought. The researchers, led by Lion Shahab, a health psychologist at University College London, found “substantially reduced levels of measured carcinogens and toxins” in vape. In fact, Public Health England endorsed an estimate that vaping is roughly 95 percent safer than smoking. That’s incredible. Think about how much safer it would be compared to fast food!
And while it is impressive, it doesn’t end there. Dr. Hayden McRobbie, a senior author of a study partly funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, published a journal entry in the journal Addiction and said that (regarding vaping) “If there are any risks, these will be many times lower than the risks of smoking tobacco.” Think about that for a moment.
That wasn’t all he had to say on the matter. “We need to think carefully about how these products are regulated,” he said. “What we found is that there is no evidence that these products should be regulated as strictly as tobacco, or even more strictly than tobacco.” As noted on WebMD, no evidence has shown that the vapor produced by e-cigarettes is harmful to users or bystanders in contrast to cigarette smoke, he added. It’s not the nicotine in cigarettes that kills people, he said.
Commit this part to memory; it’s not the nicotine that kills people. Perhaps that is why I am writing this today. Now, I am not going to point any fingers here, but it is clear that a few have invested quite a bit of time and money in disinformation campaigns pointed against the vaping industry. One can only speculate who might gain from such a campaign. When a story remotely links a negative to vaping, it’s all over the news. But think about that; when was the last time you heard a story on the news about what cigarettes are doing?
Let’s examine the myths surrounding “popcorn lung,” for instance. Popcorn lung is a slang name used for a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans. It’s a condition caused when inhaled chemicals scar the tiny airways within the lung and reduce their efficiency. One of the culprits of this condition is a chemical known as diacetyl, a chemical found in products ranging from buttered microwave popcorn to cigarettes. Other causes of popcorn lung include nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and welding fumes.
True, for some time, some e-liquids contained small amounts of diacetyl. However, for the most part, this was when the industry was new. Once it was discovered that there were dangers associated with the chemical, many e-liquid manufacturers stopped using diacetyl altogether. For most responsible e-liquid manufacturers, it was simply better to be safe than sorry.
I believe everyone should let that point soak in. Let me rephrase this for clarity. For the most part, the vaping industry stopped using diacetyl because they recognized it could potentially harm their customers. Not “is”… just “potentially.” This is very much UNLIKE the cigarette industry. Despite the repeated peer-reviewed findings that their continued use of 43 known cancer-causing compounds and hundreds of other toxins is hurting and killing millions of people, they continue to produce their products unapologetically. Are there exceptions? Of course, but the point remains.
I don’t know about you, but I think Dr. Hayden McRobbie was right. The demonization is a little misplaced. Vaping is a superior alternative to smoking and may come with a few health benefits. That’s a pretty awesome deal.
Personally, what I like about the idea of vaping is that the user is in control of the dosage of nicotine and the chemicals being used. This is why so many smokers turn to vape to help kick the habit. Researchers from University College London estimate that the use of e-cigarettes produced 16K-22K additional long-term quitters in England in 2014. This factoid, too, was published in the journal Addiction.
It seems to me that the evidence is clear, and it becomes clearer by the day. Nicotine is NOT the devil it was thought to be, and vaping is NOT some horrible act. Many need to understand that the vaping industry is very transparent, and most shops only use propylene glycol, glycerin, water, nicotine, and flavorings. That’s it! Contrast that to pop, processed or fast food, or even cigarettes. Don’t buy the misguided hype, and stop frowning upon those who vape. It’s silly.
Now the only concern that seems to be left (at least as far as I’m concerned) would be that of foreign-sourced nicotine and other potentially dangerous additives such as Vitamin E, but that is a different article and is something that is being addressed in the industry. Still, I think we can all safely say that we can safely drink our glass of wine, have our glass of iced tea, and enjoy our basic vape. I advise not to let the propaganda get in the way of that enjoyment because science sure won’t.
- Clearing up some myths around e-cigarettes (U.K.)
- Two common flavoring chemicals in e-cigarettes can damage lung cells
- Vaping juice with diacetyl
Be sure to check out my article titled, “Three Simple Things You Can Do For Better Health.”
Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.