They’ve been marketed as a safe and fun alternative to cigarettes, even a way to help smokers kick the habit, but nicotine-delivery systems such as e-cigarettes and other vaping devices may instead be creating new problems and erasing years of hard-won anti-smoking victories.
That’s what CASAColumbia, a nonprofit research and policy organization that focuses on substance use and addiction, determined in an in-depth analysis of the evidence on nicotine, including its effects on the brain and body, its addictive potential, and the risks it presents for certain populations.
The report, which aims to educate both the public and policymakers, was prepared under the direction of Linda Richter, PhD, CASAColumbia’s director of policy research and analysis. She shared her thoughts about some of the report’s key findings:
- Nicotine can be a gateway drug.
“Our analyses of national data show that users of nicotine, and especially those who are addicted to nicotine, are at increased risk of alcohol and other drug use and addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
“This is especially true of kids and adolescents for whom brain development is underway, resulting in a heightened sensitivity to the addicting effects of nicotine and other addictive substances. Research suggests that nicotine use in young people primes the brain to be more susceptible to the addicting effects of alcohol and other drugs.
“Use of one type of addictive substance also might lower psychological and social barriers to the use of other addictive substances, like alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.”
E-cigarettes aren’t the “stop-smoking” devices they’re made out to be.
“The advertising and marketing of electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices are becoming ubiquitous, and they are very successful in convincing people that these products are virtually harmless because they do not contain some of the more deadly ingredients in cigarettes. But, rather than being used exclusively by long-term smokers looking for a less harmful alternative, these products increasingly are being used alongside cigarettes and, even more concerning, by young people who are not cigarette smokers and had no intention of ever smoking cigarettes.
“In fact, rather than deterring smoking, studies are finding that some young people start to smoke conventional cigarettes only after using these products.”
Nicotine itself is harmful — even potentially fatal.
“Although the tobacco in cigarettes is the main driver of smoking-related illness and death, nicotine itself is by no means a harmless drug. It affects the nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and there is some evidence that it may contribute to cancerous tumor development. Nicotine is also associated with poor reproductive outcomes like preterm delivery and stillbirths, and exposure during fetal development and adolescence has lasting effects on brain and lung development.
“Because the FDA does not currently regulate non-tobacco nicotine products, the amount of nicotine these products contain is not standardized; it varies widely, in some cases exceeding the nicotine doses of conventional tobacco cigarettes. And, unlike conventional cigarettes, there are no federal regulatory restrictions on the inclusion of appealing flavors in these products, many of which are comprised of a host of potentially dangerous chemicals.
“A fatal human dose of nicotine is estimated to be approximately 500 mg of orally ingested nicotine, but a concrete estimate of what constitutes a lethal dose, especially for children, remains unknown.”
Kids are vulnerable and need to know the risks.
“We’ve been remarkably successful in teaching children about the harms of cigarette smoking. We need to expand that message
to all nicotine-containing products.
“Children need to understand that nicotine is one of the most addictive and potent drugs available, and that aside from increasing the risk of cigarette smoking, nicotine addiction, and other substance use and addiction, it is associated with other health problems as well.
“It also is important for parents to counteract the onslaught of advertising and marketing of these products by explaining that although they are less harmful than regular cigarettes, they are by no means harmless. Aside from containing nicotine, often of unknown doses, non-cigarette nicotine products contain a wide variety of additives and potentially toxic ingredients that are not regulated or monitored by the government or any health agency.”
We need better oversight.
“In the face of the documented risks and the uncertainty of the benefits of electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices, one would expect the FDA to place restrictions on the manufacture, marketing, and sales of all nicotine products, but that has not yet happened.
“The lack of any significant federal restrictions on these products means that their promotion on television, other media, and in point-of-sale advertising has become commonplace, reviving many of the cigarette companies’ old marketing strategies that strongly appeal to youth and other vulnerable populations.
“The FDA claims that it intends to finalize the rule that would allow it to extend its existing regulatory authority to additional tobacco products like cigars and pipes and to other nicotine products like electronic cigarettes, but that the process of doing so takes a long time. But our research and that of other leaders in the field shows that we are running out of time and that the longer we wait to act, the greater and more irreversible the harm will be to the public health.”
Understanding and Addressing Nicotine Addiction: A Science-Based Approach to Policy and Practice