Nicotine in Electronic Cigarettes: 10 Facts All Users Should Know
21 great comments - add yours!
by: James Dunworth

Nicotine causes cancer.

That’s just one of the misconceptions that surrounds nicotine. In fact, while not healthy in an absolute sense, nicotine is nothing like as bad as nicotine plus the tar, toxins and carcinogens that are in cigarette smoke. And in this post we aim to clear up some of the misconceptions.

1. Does Nicotine Cause Cancer?

cancer

It’s common for people to believe nicotine could give you cancer. This is not true – or at least there is no proof that it does. Cancer is caused by inhaling cigarette smoke. It has been suggested that nicotine could speed up the development of cancer, but this has not been proven – some studies have suggested it does, while other studies say it doesn’t!

(In an interesting aside, Christopher Snowden in his book Velvet Glove Iron Fist notes that while tobacco and nicotine have been in use for centuries, lung cancer was virtually unknown until the invention of the machine rolled cigarette in the late 19th century.)

2. Is Nicotine a Poison?

poison

Nicotine is a poison, and a deadly one. If you took all the nicotine from 30/40 cigarettes, administered it to a person, and all the nicotine was absorbed, that person could die.

However, the nicotine absorbed from cigarettes or electronic cigarettes is not strong enough to poison you. (Remember the scientist’s adage – the poison is in the dose!) Most of the nicotine in a cigarette is destroyed or burned, and e-cigarettes seem to deliver slightly less nicotine than a regular cigarette (see point 10).  Most nicotine poisonings that have occurred have been caused by insecticide or by harvesting tobacco, or from nicotine patches handed out by anti-smoking clinics to children.

That said, here are a couple of points to bear in mind:

  • keep e-liquid and e-cigarettes away from your children, especially very young children and toddlers, who are more susceptible to nicotine poisoning
  • only use e-liquid from respectable suppliers – good suppliers batch test e-liquid and cartridges to ensure safety. In the UK, look for the ECITA standard of excellence logo.

Our own e-liquid comes with child-proof caps and undergoes rigorous testing, both in-house and externally in government approved laboratories to check for impurities and nicotine strength.

More reading: Check out this great post from How do e-cigs work: Is Nicotine Poisoning Possible with E-Cigarettes.

Update: New research has come up with some astonishing findings. Read all about it here: How Much Eliquid Does It Take To Kill You: Essential Information for All Vapers

3. What Else is Bad About Nicotine?

Question

While we do not know everything about nicotine, according to tobaccoharmreduction.org its health effects are similar to caffeine.

Both cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, and both can increase the pulse rate, and nicotine may also have an effect on foetal development.

4. Is Nicotine Really Addictive?

addiction

Some scientists have maintained that nicotine is more addictive than heroin.

However, the science is really not clear cut here. Some studies found that when you have no chance of getting a cigarette, your nicotine cravings decrease. For example, when Jewish smokers observe the Sabbath and refrain from smoking, their urge to smoke a cigarette also decreases.

Another study found that the physiological act of lifting the cigarette to your mouth and taking a puff has been vastly underestimated – perhaps deliberately, as most cessation studies are funded by pharmaceutical companies who sell nicotine cessation aids.

David Kroch, in his book Smoking, The Artificial Passion, has another interesting point to make. Whereas morphine and cocaine were rapidly adopted as drugs of ‘abuse’ when produced in a pure form, nicotine, stripped from tobacco, has rarely been popular.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Professor Siegel has argued:

It appears that the role of nicotine in addiction to smoking has been exaggerated and that there are behavioral aspects to the addiction that play a very important role.

Source: Tobacco Analysis Blog

(Incidentally, 67% of e-cig users believe electronic cigarettes are less addictive than cigarettes.)

5. A Stimulant – AND a Relaxant!

Relaxed smiling woman receiving a back massage

Nicotine is biphasic – it both stimulates and relaxes you. Take a little and it stimulates you – more than that, it can accentuate the mood of the moment, heightening your awareness of pleasure. Take a lot, though, and it can help calm and relax you in stressful situations.

6. Does Nicotine Cause Brain Damage?

Image of the brain.

According to at least one study, nicotine has been found to stimulate recovery from brain damage. (Source: Pub Med.) Unfortunately, other studies argue that nicotine also causes permanent changes to the brain, especially if used from an early age. Doh!

7. Nicotine and Memory

memory

Nicotine may also help your memory. This is a controversial area, because once again some studies find it does help prevent Alzheimers and improve memory, while at least one study argues that it accelerates the growth of Alzhimer’s by encouraging the growth of tangles in the brain.

A more recent study found that nicotine patches helped patients with mild cognitive impairment gain 46% of normal performance, while a test group who did not receive nicotine declined by 26% in the same period. (Source: Medscape.com)

8. Nicotine, Agression and Concentration

Agression

According to several studies (conducted on both monkeys and humans), nicotine can lower your aggression levels and improve your concentration. Indeed, one study by Kjelerup found that nicotine decreases your level of aggression, make your brain up to 30% smarter and makes you less aggressive in stressful situations. (See Are you smarter when you vape? for more information.)

9. Does Nicotine Make You Feel Less Hungry?

Hungry girl with food.

Nicotine can make you feel less hungry. In fact,  as Paul Bergen has argued on this blog, this may have been one of the reasons why tobacco originally became so popular at a time when people were often hungry. (See Nicotine and Hunger: Closer than you think.)

10. Electronic Cigarettes and Nicotine Delivery

Tobacco plants.

Early studies found that electronic cigarettes did not deliver as much nicotine as cigarettes do.

I believe that newer models of e-cigarettes deliver more nicotine than older models. This is borne out not just by the hit we users get today with e-cigarettes, but in two studies carried out by Dr Eissenburg: the first found that e-cigarettes did not deliver nicotine, the second that they did. (If any kind reader has the link to the second study, please share it in the comments :) )

However, it is likely that electronic cigarettes do deliver rather less nicotine than regular cigarettes, and we always advise smokers to use e-liquid/cartridges that is one strength above what they are used to smoking.

Over to you

This is a huge subject, and I haven’t covered everything. (I had to cut down the scope of this post or I would never have finished it!) What else would YOU include in a list like this?

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21 Responses to “Nicotine in Electronic Cigarettes: 10 Facts All Users Should Know”

  1. Wendy February 7, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Now you’re heading into an area I’m DEEPLY interested in – I’m one of the vapers who still misses the ‘other’ psychoactive components you get in tobacco smoke but NOT in vapour. Nicotine’s fine and nice but to be honest, I don’t get the relaxation effect you mention in #5 above at all, regardless of how much I vape. Don’t get me wrong, I love vaping and it has allowed me to break free from dependence on tobacco which in the past I honestly thought I never would.

    Are E-Cigarette Direct monitoring the development of whole tobacco alkaloid (WTA) e-liquids at all? There are at least a couple of sellers in the US who are now retailing small quantities of WTA liquids including nicotine AND the other alkaloids which they are extracting from tobacco themselves. In essence, rather than refining tobacco to produce ONLY nicotine they are retaining some of the other components as well. This is a complex procedure requiring considerable specialist expertise in chemistry which is of course reflected in the price of the liquid, but by all accounts this produces a much more satisfying vape than nicotine alone does for people like myself who feel there’s “something missing” from ‘just’ nicotine vapour.

    I do appreciate that for the vast majority of vapers nicotine is what they’re after when they vape and this allows them to break free from tobacco without any pain or cravings at all, but some (like myself) still miss these other components badly. There are also some (probably legitimate) concerns that these other alkaloids may well be involved in the addictiveness of tobacco smoke which leads to the repeated failure of people like myself to quit smoking by any other method.

    I’m positive you would find there is a very ready market for this product among any UK vapers who have heard about WTA and personally I’d be totally willing to pay a premium cost if it made vaping noticeably much more satisfying to me than nicotine alone. I genuinely believe that whoever is the first reputable UK seller to make WTA e-liquid available here will very likely find they have considerable difficulty keeping it in stock to meet the demand.

    Apologies if this post seems slightly off-topic and of course you can decline to publish it if you feel this is the case, but I’d really love to find out if your company are doing anything in this direction!!

  2. James February 7, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    Hi Wendy, I have no intention of deleting your comment, it’s far too interesting! I’ve heard other vapers say that the addiction in cigarettes is down to other factors than nicotine, but have not heard them mention other factors. If you’re correct, I wonder if it could affect different smokers differently – I know some smokers switch instantly to e-cigs, some switch slowly over weeks, and some only use them as alternatives to cigarettes when they can’t use real ones.

    At the moment we monitor e-liquid for purity, it’s tested by SGS and we’ve also had batch tests done. I might have to buy and try some of the e-liquid you mentioned, though we have far too many products coming online at present to add any more just now!

  3. Vince August 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Tobacco is already an ILLEGAL drug! Yes, it is STILL ILLEGAL to poison people, no matter how slowly you do it!

    E-cigarettes are illegal, too! Nicotine is a poison!

    • cigarbabe (@cigarbabe2) December 7, 2012 at 3:13 am #

      Vince tobacco is not illegal and neither are ecigs though the WHO would stupidly like to see them banned.
      Thank God we aren’t following them blindly here in the US yet…
      WTA’s give you and me the missing satiation factor that I never found in ecigs until I tried some juice with a high level of WTA and one which had been properly processed. I use it before I go to bed and when I wake up to get my day started. Without WTA in my juices I never would have regained my focus and ability to concentrate on the jobs at hand.
      Huzzah for WTA!
      C.B.

    • Penny March 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

      I went with my daughter in law to purchase an e cigarette.. What a shock! She laid out £50 for cartridges & whatever rubbish it is you put on them? The sales assistant was very believable & assured us nicotine is completely harmless????? I doubted this & having looked on line discovered articles about nicotine overdose ! I feel the man lied to us & my daughter In law was duped into handing over her money! Like all other nicotine replacement products I believe it is just another way to make money out of people… Nicotine is out of your body 24 hrs after your last cigarette… It’s then psychological & a complete waste of money to replace cigarettes with anything else! Just don’t smoke anything… Simples!

      • James Dunworth March 23, 2014 at 11:19 am #

        Nicotine is not completely harmless, Penny, but most vapers think nicotine is better than than the nicotine + tar + carcinogens found in tobacco smoke :)

      • john March 23, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

        E-cigs do not produce “smoke”. As for its just psyoclogical as it happens nicotine is the best drug for my depressive issues , works better and has less side-effects than the other (many) treatments I have tried. And it does not cause me to harm other people.

  4. Baccy run May 22, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    Consensus shows that e ciggies work

  5. Barb December 6, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    I think the science and every smoker’s experience is pretty unambigious on the fact that nicotine is very addictive. There are strong physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when people try to quit. Devoutly religious people like the jews mentioned have a motivation not to smoke at certain times that doesn’t apply to secular smokers, so that’s not really a good comparison. Nicotine can also cause a narrowing of the arteries (along with raised blood pressure) which is why there is an increased stroke risk in smokers.
    There is a risk of overdosing when people wrongly mix their juices which won’t happen with cigarette smokers.
    I love vaping, but let’s not talk about nicotine like it’s some kind of health tonic.

    • James Dunworth December 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Not saying nicotine is perfect, but that’s not a reason not to discuss an interesting topic! Many smokers mistakenly think they nicotine is the cause of smoking diseases, and that’s a myth that needs busting.

      r.e. addiction, one scientist at the ecigarette summit was saying that one problem with ecigarettes is they are not addictive enough to get some smokers off cigarettes. And in a study I read recently, scientists found that rats reacted more to nicotine which was combined with compounds from tobacco than they did to pure nicotine. So I’d disagree with you that the evidence is conclusive (we know nicotine is addictive, but not how addictive.)

      • john December 8, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

        Wendy I think that “whole tobacco alkaloid (WTA) e-liquids” would be intrinsically (and significantly) much riskier than purified nicotine extract.

        The great advantage of conventional eliquid is that all of the ingredients are known mass produced ,food grade or pharmaceutical grade products-there is a lot of knowledge as to what they are/do. Introducing a lot of other poorly understood Tobacco plant derived substances into the mix could justify the ‘not enough is known’ claim.

        Personally I just wish that i could walk to the corner (drug?) store and buy a ecig or eliquid of about 18-24 mil strength , that is a known quantity/purity, in a child proof container and only available to consenting adults. Its all very well ordering it from china and I have, touch wood, had no problems with customs but, its a bit of a drag.

        One of the many problems created by prohibitionist type policies is that they don’t just encourage backyard hooch, they also encourage the production of stronger varieties of the banned drug. For example Prohibition in the US, essentially replaced Beer -,lowish strength and bitter and not that popular with women and the young, with concentrated spirits that were often sweetened – much more popular with the young and women.

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