Insider reports that “people have been coming up with inventive ways to get high on nicotine for [nearly] a hundred years.” The most recent way that people have begun to ingest nicotine is with e-cigarettes, commonly called “e-cigs,” “mods,” and “vapes” that they use for vaping. Simply put, an electronic cigarette is “a handheld battery-powered vaporizer that simulates smoking.”
Vaping is commonly used by adult smokers who wish to quit smoking, and it has had some success as a smoking cessation tool. However, the small amount of success it has had with helping people quit smoking is eclipsed by the large number of people – especially young people – that have become addicted to nicotine because vaping is so widespread and accepted as a better alternative to smoking cigarettes.
The fact is that there has been a huge increase in the number of teenagers that are using e-cigarettes in recent years. “In 2017, 11% of high school students had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. By 2018, that number had risen to 21% and, by 2019, 27.5% of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past month.” This increase in teenage use of e-cigs is disturbing, to say the least.
Why is vaping so attractive to our youth? What has led to the misconception that e-cigarettes are “safe”? What happens when vaping becomes the new “gateway drug”? There is still much to be learned about vaping, but one thing is certain: it is highly addictive.
The History of the E-Cigarette
Many people believe that the idea of e-cigarettes and vaping is a recent development in history, but it is not. In 1798, Dr. Benjamin Rush referred to smoking cigarettes as “offensive” and suggested that it would lead to “incurable diseases” and cancer. Because the dangers of cigarettes were made evident, many inventors over the years have tried to find a way to ingest nicotine without cigarettes.
Joseph Robinson created the first “electric vaporizer” for what he called “medicinal compounds” in 1927. However, his idea didn’t take off because people didn’t really become concerned with the health risks associated with cigarettes until the 1950s. In 1963, Herbert Gilbert introduced a “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” but could not find a manufacturer willing to make and distribute it.
Jed Rose, the man who invented the first nicotine patch, made an attempt to develop an e-cigarette with what he referred to as “distilled smoke” in the 1980s. Then, in 2000, the “Volcano” tabletop vaporizer was introduced to the market, but it was designed for cannabis, not tobacco.
The e-cigarette that is known today was invented by Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist (and smoker), in 2003. Lik was a three-pack-a-day smoker whose father died of lung cancer from smoking, and he was looking for a new way to ingest nicotine without the harmful effects of cigarettes. Eventually, Lik became what is known as a “dual user” – someone who both vapes nicotine and smokes cigarettes.
Vaping was introduced to Europe in 2006 and shortly thereafter made its way to the United States. This new “fashionable” way of smoking took the country by storm. N’Joy “was one of the first major e-cigarette brands in the U.S.” and was founded in 2007. Unfortunately, the e-cig company filed for bankruptcy in 2016 because it struggled to find customers that were willing to buy its products.
Not all e-cigarette companies struggled, though. JUUL has been extremely successful – and they are now facing the consequences of their youth-targeting advertisements. For instance, in 2015, JUUL launched an advertising campaign in VICE magazine, which hailed itself as the “#1 youth media company.” There are even some teens that are now suing JUUL because they became addicted to their products that contained nicotine without ever having smoked a cigarette.
As of today, at least 37 deaths and about 2,000 illnesses have been linked to vaping nicotine, THC, or a combination of the two. Even a former JUUL executive is suing the JUUL company because he claims the company “knowingly sold tainted JUUL pods to customers and stores.” There have been investigations launched into what is causing the sicknesses and deaths, and there are even campaigns being launched to take away the flavored vaping choices in order to make young people less likely to begin vaping.
Vaping: What is it, and What are the Dangers?
An electronic cigarette, by definition, “is a handheld battery-operated vaporizer that simulates smoking and provides some of the behavioral aspects of smoking, including the hand-to-mouth action of smoking, but without burning tobacco.” The act of using an e-cigarette is called “vaping” and the person who uses an e-cigarette is called a “vaper.”
Some information regarding electronic cigarettes includes:
- The user inhales an aerosol that is commonly referred to as “vapor.”
- The e-cigarettes use a heating element to atomize a liquid that is called “e-liquid.”
- Some are activated when the user takes a puff, and others have a button that needs to be pressed in order to inhale.
- Some are reusable and others are disposable.
- There are four generations of e-cigarettes.
- “E-liquids usually contain propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, flavorings, additives, and different amounts of contaminants.”
- There are also e-liquids that do not include propylene glycol, nicotine, or flavors.
The biggest danger presented by vaping is that it is not federally regulated. There are many different companies that produce several different vaping devices and e-liquid products, and there is not one regulated recipe. This leads to different brands being more dangerous than others. E-cigarettes do contain fewer toxic chemicals than cigarettes, but, without federal regulation, there are still toxic chemicals found in some brands (and some brands more than others).
The vapor from e-cigarettes has been known to be made of “fine and ultrafine particles of particulate matter, which have been found to contain propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, flavors, small amounts of toxicants, carcinogens, and heavy metals, as well as metal nanoparticles and other substances.” This list does not support the widespread belief that vaping is much safer than smoking cigarettes.
Perhaps the largest threat that vaping poses revolves around the “gateway theory” which claims that using less harmful drugs usually leads to using more dangerous drugs and sometimes can even lead to criminal activity.
Some of the “gateway” concerns of e-cigarettes and vaping are:
- Vaping nicotine will lead to smoking cigarettes.
- Vaping nicotine will lead to illicit drug use.
- Vaping nicotine will lead to nicotine addiction.
- Vaping nicotine will lead to cannabis use.
- Vaping nicotine will lead to opioid addiction.
Because of all the “fun flavors” that are associated with vaping, there is a “catalyst model” that suggests that vaping appeals more to today’s minors because it doesn’t have many of the negative features of smoking.
In fact, “a 2016 review based on the catalyst model indicated that the perceived health risks, specific product characteristics (such as taste, price, and inconspicuous use), and higher levels of acceptance among peers and others potentially make e-cigarettes initially more attractive to adolescents than tobacco cigarettes.”
According to the World Health Organization, there were 466 brands of e-cigarettes in 2014 that had collective global sales of $7 billion. Because of all the different e-cigarette products and designs, researchers have classified the e-cigarettes into first, second, third, and fourth generation devices which are outlined below.
- First Generation – This generation resembles an actual cigarette and is known for being disposable.
- Second Generation -This generation is a larger, rechargeable, pen-shaped vaping device.
- Third Generation – This generation does not resemble a cigarette at all. They are much larger and sometimes have customizable batteries. They are often called “mods.” These devices are refillable and rechargeable.
- Fourth Generation -This generation is very sleek with high tech designs and rechargeable batteries. They often use “pod mods,” which are separate self-contained disposable pods that contain the e-liquid.
The amount of nicotine that a vaper ingests depends on several factors, such as the e-cigarette that is being used, the modifications made to the e-cigarette, the percentage of nicotine within the chosen e-liquid, and the way that the vaper inhales. Therefore, nicotine addiction can happen without the user even realizing it. They may believe they are ingesting a small amount of nicotine when, in fact, they are taking in much more than they believe.
JUUL is one of the most popular current e-cigarette brands. It is a fourth-generation e-cigarette with the following nicotine levels: 3%, 5%, and 7%. Because the brand uses “salt mods,” the pH of their e-liquids is lowered so more nicotine can be delivered without irritation. In fact, “the maker of JUUL claims the product has a nicotine content like traditional cigarettes, and that it delivers the nicotine up to 2.7 times faster than other e-cigarettes.”
Facts like this show that nicotine addiction appears imminent for anyone who uses e-cigarettes.
- There was a substantial increase in the number of high schoolers that used e-cigarettes between 2013 and 2015 – from 4.5% to 16%. (Not surprisingly, this increase coincided with the introduction of the JUUL.)
- In 2019, 10.5% of middle school-aged children had used an e-cigarette.
- If someone tries an e-cigarette in their youth, they are 4 times more likely to try cigarettes.
- A Truth Initiative study showed that nearly 2/3 of JUUL users that were between the ages of 15 and 21 did not know that the product they were using contained nicotine.
- In 2019, a Monitoring the Future study showed that 11.7% of high school-aged children vaped every single day.
- When asked why they used e-cigarettes, the top reason that young users gave was the flavors, and the second most popular reason was that a family member or friend introduced them.
- The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System published a survey in 2016 that stated that 44.3% of young adult e-cigarette users were not smokers before they began using e-cigarettes.
- In 2016, it was found that 54.6% of adult e-cigarette users also smoked actual cigarettes.
- It has been found that, in adults aged 18 to 35, e-cigarette use resulted in more frequent cigarette smoking and more intensive nicotine intake.
- Adults over age 45 are far less likely to use e-cigarettes compared to younger adults.
Clearly, e-cigarette use is contributing to the burgeoning nicotine addictions within the youth of America. This is particularly harmful because addiction during one’s youth can alter the brain before it is even fully formed. There is even evidence that an addiction to nicotine formed in someone’s youth can contribute to more dangerous addictions in the future because the brain is already primed for addiction.
Nicotine Addiction and How to Overcome It
Some e-cigarette users are under the misguided impression that they cannot become addicted to nicotine by vaping it. However, as discussed earlier, addiction can happen even faster with e-cigarettes because the amount of nicotine that you ingest can be much more than you think you are ingesting. When you have become addicted to nicotine, you will show withdrawal symptoms when you go without it.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms of nicotine addiction are:
- Irritability, restlessness, feeling jittery
- Increased sweating
- Feeling sad, depressed, or anxious
- Feeling tired or groggy
- Not able to think clearly
- Unable to concentrate
- Unable to sleep
- Increased hunger
- Intense cravings for nicotine
If you notice that you experience any of these symptoms when you go without nicotine, you are most probably suffering from nicotine addiction. It is not the end of the world, though. There are some ways that you can get help to overcome the addiction.
Some ways that you can overcome nicotine addiction include:
- Speak with your doctor or another healthcare professional. Let them know your plans to quit vaping and ask them for their advice. There are nicotine patches and medicines that you can use to manage cravings.
- Go into residential treatment. If you feel as though you need additional help breaking free from the temptation of such a widely available product, why not go into residential treatmtent as a way to
- Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can help lessen the headaches, sweating, hunger, and fatigue that you will experience.
- Keep healthy snacks available. You will feel hungry when you are withdrawing from nicotine but easing that hunger with junk food will not help you feel better. Healthy snacks like raw carrots or nuts are a much better choice.
- Get the support of your friends and family. Let them know that you are trying to quit e-cigarettes and that you need their support.
- Be prepared for cravings. Have a plan for when cravings hit, so you are not caught off-guard by a craving and give in to it.
- Quit all other nicotine products along with e-cigarettes.
Nicotine addiction has gotten a facelift in recent years because of the rise of e-cigarettes and vaping. Additionally, it is affecting an entirely new – and younger – generation. Spreading awareness to your loved ones about the dangers of vaping and addiction can help to save them from an unexpected addiction. If you see someone that you love vaping, let them know that it is not a completely safe alternative to smoking. They may not realize the harm they are doing to themselves, and information is power.
If you’re trying to get addiction treatment for yourself or for someone you love, reach out to The Hills for comprehensive and caring treatment that will help patients detox and learn the skills to cope with their triggers and their addiction. You have options, let The Hills be one of them.