The E-Cig Debate Is Pointless—They Still Have Nicotine
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The E-Cig Debate Is Pointless—They Still Have Nicotine


Nicotine: The New Gateway Drug

Will there ever be a shortage of bad things to say about cigarettes? Apparently not, even for their electronic counterparts—according to a recent article on Time’s website, e-cigarettes are already “generating volumes of research.” Though the new versions have been designed as a kind of socially-conscious, health-minded alternative to old fashioned tobacco cigarettes (though common sense and evidence shows they’re not really better), they still deliver the same addictive chemical at the root of so many other health problems: nicotine.

We’ve all heard the “gateway drug” argument made before in reference to marijuana and harder drugs, though data seems to be scant or inconclusive in that particular case. Still, the argument has found new life in a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine; data have shown that the use of nicotine could increase the likelihood of using and becoming addicted to harder drugs in the future.

The study was written by husband and wife team Eric and Denise Kandel, who also happen to be anti-smoking crusaders. “E-cigs are basically nicotine-delivery devices,” Eric says in the article, adding that the chemical is “a powerful facilitator for addiction to cocaine and perhaps other drugs as well.”

The findings of the study demonstrated that many people who started taking cocaine were also smoking cigarettes at the same time. This is likely because it’s been shown that nicotine can act as a kind of lubricant for the same pleasure pathways that cocaine acts upon, and with a similar unfortunate side-effect of diminishing returns as well.

Taking Action

Up until now, e-cigs have been widely seen as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, and even a “quit smoking” aid in some cases (though of course there’s no evidence that they help at all). After all, it’s true that they don’t have the tar and other negative byproducts caused by regular cigarettes. Still, that line of thinking is apparently starting to lose steam.

According to their website, the American Heart Association released a statement requesting stricter legislation, increased oversight and a ban on marketing e-cigs to adolescents. “Over the last 50 years, 20 million Americans died because of tobacco,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the organization. “Recent studies raise concerns that e-cigarettes may be a gateway to traditional tobacco products for the nation’s youth, and could renormalize smoking in our society.”

Likewise, Toronto has recently banned e-cigarettes from the workplace, and the World Health Organization has also spoken out suggesting that new regulations be put in place surrounding this growing market.

What It All Means

All of this is encouraging news that the conversation might be shifting, not only for cigarettes but for drug abuse in general. After all, the study’s deeper argument points beyond cigarettes and more towards addiction in general—nicotine’s effect on the brain is what’s being called into question here, not just the comparatively cosmetic effect that smoke might have on one’s lungs.

That nicotine has never been scientifically considered as “a significant influence” on further drug use is “a major omission,” according to Eric Kandel. His wife, Denise, goes further: “We’ve worked very hard to reduce smoking in this country, and I think it’s been a fantastic success. Now I think we’re on the verge of destroying all of the progress we’ve made.” Still, it research like the Kandel’s that ensures that doesn’t happen, and that the conversation on addiction in general stays headed the right direction.

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About Author

Ryan Aliapoulios is a freelance writer and editor. He also hosts Dad Bops, the world's first intersectional vegan comedy podcast about dad music, available on iTunes and Soundcloud.