First, nicotine is not carcinogenic and has not been linked to cancer. Beyond that, is nicotine bad for you? There are opposing schools of thought but the science is moving more toward the direction that nicotine itself is not bad for you.
If you ask a public health agency like the CDPH or CDC, the safety of nicotine changes depending on the context. On one hand if they are discussing a pharmaceutically branded nicotine replacement therapy they have no issue with nicotine. In fact, they recommend it as a quit smoking aid.
On the other hand if discussing nicotine in relation to ecigs and vaping, suddenly nicotine becomes bad. There is a double standard applied and that double standard has only added to the confusion. If someone asks ‘is nicotine bad for you’ they deserve the best possible answer, not double talk. Trying to vilify nicotine in one respect and then championing it in another makes no sense.
The nicotine molecules that come through your skin when wearing a nicotine patch are exactly the same as the nicotine molecules you get when vaping and ecig. Same nicotine molecules in Nicorette gum as well. Nicotine is nicotine yet the inconsistent message emanating from our public health resources remains conflicted.
So if we look to our public health agencies for a clear-cut answer on nicotine safety we are left with only disappointment at the inconsistencies and complete lack of clarity.
What can be agreed upon is that the thousands of toxins in tobacco smoke are the main health hazard connected to smoking.
Nicotine itself may have some very positive potential. The nicotine molecule has roughly the same shape and size as a vital neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine. As a result, the nicotine basically behaves like a neurotransmitter and can activate the release of additional neurotransmitters, such as the ver popular and useful dopamine, and hormones. It can also stimulate the brains pleasure centers. This is why your brain likes nicotine so much.
Nicotine can help with concentration and memory. The American Academy of Neurology recently published a nicotine health study that shows huge potential for using nicotine to treat neurological disorders. Vanderbilt University’s School of Cognitive Medicine has found that nicotine may actually slow the disease process of Alzheimer’s. The same studies also indicated the possibilities for nicotine to protect people against Parkinson’s disease.
Nicotine is a stimulant, much like caffeine. Nicotine can kick start your adrenal glands and give you a bit of adrenaline. Nicotine can cause a short term increase in heart rate and blood pressure but only temporarily, same as your coffee.
Nicotine’s bad reputation comes courtesy of smoking. The two go hand in hand in the minds of most people. The fact is that smoking generates 7,000 chemicals through the process of combustion combined with all of the horrible tobacco additives that cigarette companies add to tobacco to make it burn faster and accelerate nicotine absorption. Smoking causes the harm not the nicotine.
Nicotine In Cigarettes And Tobacco Additives
There is nicotine in cigarette smoke. That is because nicotine naturally occurs in the tobacco plant. Tobacco plants produce nicotine to repel insects. Plants often have natural insecticides to protect themselves against infestation.
Quite often the same properties that repel insects are what attracts us to certain plant byproducts. Take the ever popular cinnamon. We love it and if you sprinkle some by the door, it can help keep the bugs out.
So technically, nicotine is an insecticide but a natural one that is not toxic to humans unless you were to ingest a lot of it. Pretty much everything can be toxic in large doses. Even cinnamon.
The total amount of mg of nicotine in a cigarette may vary but studies show that the amount of nicotine that you absorb is about 1 mg per cigarette.
Over time, you build up a level that is always present and your brain gets acclimated to that level and will signal you that it wants more causing you to experience a craving for a cigarette.
When you light that cigarette you may get the 1 mg of nicotine but you are also getting a whole lot more than you bargained for. Those chemical additives that we were talking about, well you get all of those too. Worse yet, you are getting more of them than ever before. Believe it or not, cigarettes are actually worse now than they were in the past.
In fact, 50 years after Big Tobacco was exposed for knowingly promoting a product that kills people the practice of adding harmful chemicals to tobacco has only gotten worse. The cigarettes that you buy today are even more dangerous than the cigarettes of the past because of those tobacco additives.
Despite this fact, when people talk about cigarettes “nicotine” is what comes to mind. We generally don’t think of or talk about the ammonia that accelerates the speed at which nicotine gets to the brain. We don’t think about the methanol that makes the tobacco burn faster. By the way, we also use methanol to launch rockets. We don’t think or talk about toluene, cadmium, DDT, carbon monoxide or any of the host of other additives. Nicotine is the one that comes to mind hence the bad reputation. Nicotine has obviously been hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Is nicotine bad for you – it’s the tobacco smoke that kills you, not the nicotine. It is not the nicotine that gives you smokers cough or shortness of breath. It is the smoke and all the toxins in that smoke. Thinking about all of those tobacco additives is a little scary, and it should be.
Now, think about all of those toxins and then you set them aflame and burn them. You make it so much worse. Think about the smell that you detect when plastic is burning. Something that is stable suddenly unleashes a cloud of toxic smoke when you burn it. That’s what we call combustion. Combustion is a rapid chemical process that creates new compounds that are released in a gaseous state, or smoke. Burning can create toxins and carcinogens.
It is important to remember that there is a big difference between burning and heating (although overheating can lead to burning). Take toast, for example. When you heat toast and make it just right it can be a tasty, healthy source of nutrients. When you burn toast, the rapid chemical reactions taking place cause the toast to turn black and you can definitely smell the unpleasant odor when something burns. That burnt toast not only tastes terrible but carcinogens are actually produced. That’s why you want to avoid charred foods.
Is Liquid Nicotine Safe
That brings us back to the issue of nicotine and ecigs. An ecig / vaporizer actually vaporizes the liquid by heating it.
The liquid nicotine solution is converted to vapor which can then be inhaled. There is no burning, no CO2 or other toxins that occur in cigarette smoke.
The question that is often asked when explaining the difference between heating and burning, vaping and smoking, is ,”If the nicotine is overheated does it burn?”. The answer is yes, it can.
If you overheat the eliquid, or liquid nicotine, you can burn it and create toxins. Just like you can burn your toast you can burn your eliquid. This can happen from too much heat or heating the eliquid for too long.
In vaping, there is a practice called “dripping” that involves exposing eliquid to very high heat in order to create more vapor. Dripping has been known to generate trace amount of toxins in vapor. Now those traces are minimal, but they have been detected. That is why of you are going to try dripping, you need to know what you are doing.
Dripping, RDAs, and variable voltage mods all require that you know what you are doing. Understanding the resistance of the heating coil and the power you are drawing from the battery is crucial to avoid burning the eliquid. If you misuse an ecig / vaporizer, there is potential for increased risk. To use an analogy, vaping at high temperatures can be like driving without wearing your seat belt.
Whenever you hear of an ecig study in which trace amounts of toxins were detected you can be sure that those results were attained through a poor quality or misused electronic cigarette / vaporizer. Those results are rare. In fact, researchers have to go to extreme measures in order to attain them. A great example has been the exposure of the “formaldehyde in ecigs” myth. An ecig used properly does not generate the toxins that critics are so eager to claim and that includes formaldehyde.
Even when an ecig / vaporizer is of poor quality or is misused, the amount of toxins detected is relatively minuscule and certainly far less than you will ever find in cigarettes. There is a reason for that.
Even if you should accidentally overheat liquid nicotine / eliquid, the ingredients of the eliquid itself are small in number and food grade. Eliquid is comprised of propylene glycol and or vegetable glycerin, nicotine, water, and flavor. That’s it. There are no toxic additives like you find in tobacco.
Overheating or burning eliquid is virtually eliminated when you rely on a quality electronic cigarette. Ecig / vaporizer technology is quite advanced compared to when the industry first began. The better quality ecigs have built in microprocessor technology that meticulously controls how long your ecig battery will discharge power. The battery will automatically cut off the power to avoid exposing the eliquid to heat for too long.
When you go with an easy to use, high quality ecigarette the battery output and the resistance of the heating coil that comes with your product will be preset to function together correctly. If you stick with quality, you should have no concerns.
Many of those same brands do offer advanced ecig that allow you tom adjust battery output and although those also have built in safety measures, it is important that you have a solid understanding of vaping and vaporizers before embarking into the realm of more complex ecig products.
There is a big caveat here. You will find that there are now about 500 ecigarette brands. Most are not good and should be avoided. They can make any product and put anything in their eliquid. There are no rules right now, not until FDA ecig regulation goes into law. It is actually very important you stick with a recommended ecig company. ECCR is hands down your best resource.
One of the criticisms of ecigarettes is that inhaling nicotine has unknown long-term effects. Well, we do know more about inhaling nicotine than critics would like to admit. Inhaling nicotine in vapor form is orders of magnitude less harmful than tobacco smoke.
A 2-year study conducted by the University Hospital Department Of Medicine in Tronheim, Norway indicated that inhaled nicotine in a pure form does not lead to any harmful effects.
The study involved administering high doses of nicotine, twice the level found in heavy smokers, for 20 hours a day 5 days a week for two years. The study was conducted on rats as many medical studies are.
Following the two-year period no increase in mortality was found. There were no tumors or pulmonary neuroendocrine cells detected. Pulmonary neuroendocrine cells are linked to various forms of lung cancer. Lung function remained normal.
In addition, no atherosclerosis was connected to pure nicotine inhalation. The conclusion read, “our study does not indicate any harmful effect of nicotine when given in its pure form by inhalation.” This offers a clear answer on the question, “Is nicotine bad for you?”
This study was published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health and you can see the results of the nicotine study here.
Recent ecigarette research tested the impact of vapor on human lung cells. The study compared what happens when lung cells are exposed to liquid nicotine vapor, like in eliquid, versus what happens when lung cells are exposed to tobacco smoke.
Not surprisingly, the lung cells that were exposed to vapor were up to 8 times more viable than cells exposed to tobacco smoke. The study also showed the cells exposed to tobacco smoke experienced up to 5 times more oxidative stress than cells exposed to vapor. There is little doubt that vaping reduces the harm potential of smoking and that at a cellular level vaping nicotine is not nearly as dangerous and smoking nicotine with tobacco cigarettes.
Inhaling nicotine in a vapor form rather than in smoke drastically reduces exposure to toxins and the negative health risks. Vaping may not be a perfect solution but it does achieve results in the area of tobacco harm reduction.
Nicotine poisoning can occur of the nicotine exposure reaches toxic levels. In an adult lethal exposure can occur if an individual consumes from o.5 mg up to 1.0 mg of nicotine per kg of body weight. 1 kg equals 2.2 lbs.
Going by the minimums, that means that a 160 lb person that consumes 36 mg to 72 mg of nicotine could potentially die.
Toxicologists have long stated 40 to 60 mg of nicotine is a fatal dose for an adult.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information has recently brought these conventionally accepted toxicity levels into question. They have found cases where adults have been exposed to much higher levels and survived.
New data suggests that an adult can withstand up to 13 mg per kg of body weight. Is nicotine bad for you? Well anything is bad for you in excess.
In any case, nicotine can be a toxic substance and you do have to be careful with it. Agricultural workers working with wet tobacco plants take precautions like wearing rain suits and gloves. The nicotine from working with tobacco plants can lead to something called Green Tobacco Sickness. Nicotine in small doses in one thing but when the exposure gets to be too high it can cause problems.
One thing is for certain, children’s tolerance for nicotine exposure is far less than that of an adult.
Lethal levels for children have been calculated to be as low as 0.1 mg per 1 kg of body weight.
Children are seriously vulnerable to nicotine eliquids and vapers have to exercise responsibility when storing eliquids in a household where children are present.
If you suspect that a child may have been exposed to eliquid, or if you think you are having symptoms yourself, call for help immediately.
A 10 ml bottle of eliquid with a 1.2 % (12 mg) nicotine level will contain 120 mg of nicotine. If a 50 lb child were to get a hold of that bottle of eliquid and drink just 2 ml of that 10 ml bottle the results could be fatal. You have to keep eliquids out of reach of children. Treat eliquid the same way you would treat a medication. You would not leave prescription medication within reach of children because if they were to ingest it they would die. Have the same regard for your eliquids.
Is Nicotine Bad For You? That Can Depend On Your Age
There has also been some concern raised about nicotine use in adolescents and teens. Some studies show that nicotine may impact brain development in growing teens. There seems to be correlations between age and tolerance of nicotine. Age restrictions on vaping, nicotine gums, patches and smoking are needed.
So if a child or teen asks, is nicotine bad for you, the answer appears to be yes. Developing physiology is often more sensitive to stimulants.
When you vape eliquid, the absorption rate is typically 1/3 to 1/4 of the absorption rate when smoking a cigarette. To compare, a cigarette with 12 mg of nicotine, that’s the average for cigarettes, leads to the absorption of 1 mg of nicotine. When you vape a 12 mg nicotine solution for an equivalent number of puffs as a cigarette you will absorb between 0.25 and 0.33 mg of nicotine. It takes more vapor and higher nicotine concentration to match tobacco habits. That is why choosing the right eliquid nicotine level is so important for smokers looking to switch to vaping.
A pack per day smoker will be best served by starting with an 18 mg eliquid. Heavier smokers will need a 25 mg level. A half pack per day smoker should go no higher than 12 mg. You can always adjust upward later if required.
There are numerous reasons why the nicotine in tobacco smoke is more readily absorbed by the body. The chemical additives that are in cigarettes play a big role. Those chemicals assist and speed up nicotine absorption. Another factor is the size of the particulates in tobacco smoke. With combustion, the particulates in smoke are very small and penetrate more deeply into lung tissues.
Nicotine is not unique in its toxicity. Many otherwise safe compounds can be deadly when the exposure reaches a certain level. Prescription medications are the worst offenders. Alcohol can also be very dangerous. Every day, six people in the US die from alcohol poisoning. Nicotine is not uniquely toxic in high doses.
The FDA allows the sale of nicotine over the counter. Nicotine is not dangerous unless it is consumed in high doses. Nicotine deserves your respect and attention if you plan on using it for anything. Common sense precautions and care required.
Is Nicotine Addictive?
This is not a slam dunk answer. Is nicotine addictive – well it has addictive properties. Nicotine activates pleasure pathways in the brain. It can actually make you process and think more quickly.
Smokers build up a level of nicotine in their system that the brain becomes accustomed to. Cravings for nicotine are real.
Surveys have shown that ecigs are less addictive than cigarettes. While they both supply a nicotine fix, the delivery of that nicotine is different.
There is something else going on with cigarette smoking that makes it more addictive that other forms of nicotine. Modern neuroimaging technology and advanced research shows that there may be additional psychoactive, addictive ingredients in tobacco that add to addiction. When someone smokes a cigarette, scientists can actually see a decrease in monoamineoxidase (MAO). MAO breaks down dopamine, without it the dopamine level is higher and longer lasting which increases addiction.
This phenomena is not related to nicotine. Scientists conclude that it must be related to an unknown ingredient in tobacco smoke.
This should not come as a surprise. A few years ago, we used to say that there were 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. As technology improved and scientists were able to detect more chemicals, that number increased to 5000. Now, we know there are at least 7000 chemicals in tobacco smoke.
There is something else in tobacco smoke that accentuates the addiction. There is more than nicotine that hooks so many on smoking.
In April 2014, Dr. Paul Newhouse, director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Cognitive Medicine, published a study on nicotine. The study was designed to answer questions about why smokers showed a lower risk for Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. Newhouse, part of the results of that study showed that, “Nicotine seems to require assistance from other substances found in tobacco to get people hooked.”
“It seems very safe even in nonsmokers,” Dr. Newhouse said. “In our studies we find it actually reduces blood pressure chronically. And there were no addiction or withdrawal problems, and nobody started smoking cigarettes. The risk of addiction to nicotine alone is virtually nil.”
You can see more details of the Vanderbilt University nicotine addiction study results here.
This goes against the grain of accepted knowledge but there is a foundation for the argument that nicotine alone is not as addictive as we once thought.
The fear of hooking a new generation on nicotine is already overstated by anti-vaping interests. The numbers just don’t back up the fears at this time. If the worst case scenario were to be realized, there is some foundation that nicotine in a pure form, such as from vaping an ecig / vaporizer, is not nearly as addictive as smoking.
For smoker’s trying to quit, the cravings are going to be there. Replacing the nicotine that you are no longer getting from cigarettes has shown to be helpful in helping you quit smoking. You may still experience some nicotine withdrawal symptoms but they will not be permanent.
Given the fact that there is more than nicotine that drives tobacco addiction it would explain the terrible success rate of FDA approved smoking cessation methods. It is not just about managing nicotine cravings. There are also the other aspects that form around the rituals of smoking. It is the time we have a cigarettes, the location, how we smoke it with out hands and pulling the smoke through our mouths to lungs. There are visceral sensations that are all a part of it.
All of these sensations are what have made vaping and ecigs so incredibly popular with the vaping community. The vaping community is comprised of millions of former smokers. They were able to swicth to ecigs in large part because the act of vaping so closely mimics smoking a cigarette. Quitting is hard and you need every advantage available.
To sum it all up, there are no absolutes when it comes to defining nicotine and its effect on people. Is nicotine bad for you? At normal exposure levels in adults it seems harmless and in some cases even helpful. We are still learning about the effects of nicotine and we may well be hearing about new discoveries for many years to come. We know that nicotine is a big part of what makes you want a cigarette. Nicotine has addictive properties but you can overcome them.