Health & Studies

Nicotine Addiction

Are we addicted to the nicotine or just the act of smoking?

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A widely held view is that nicotine is highly addictive and therefore needs to be part of any smoking substitute. People taking up vaping frequently ask what strength they should adopt in order to make a smooth transition from smoking to vaping – but would a zero nic juice perform as effectively?

Peter Killeen is an Emeritus Professor from the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, having obtained his doctorate from the notable Harvard University. This entertaining video demonstrates the warmth of regard and respect the man is held in.

Professor Killeen has a history of looking at the addictive nature of nicotine and, in a talk entitled “Reefer Madness: There ain’t no such Thing as Addiction to Nicotine” sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, he concluded that “nicotine does not cause cigarette addiction”.

“It’s time to get our heads straight,” Killeen said. “What causes the tremendously addicting power of cigarettes is the drug cocktail of nicotine,” he said, “not nicotine itself.”

A large portion of the research on tobacco studies is done on nicotine. But the research has not been very reinforcing,” Killeen said. “Nicotine in itself is not very rewarding. You can go to any drugstore and buy a packet of Nicorette chewing gum.”

The problem this presents people who wish to consider nicotine as highly addictive is this: people don’t overdose on Nicorette chewing gum.

Studies have shown that none of the nicotine replacement therapies — chewing gum, inhalers, patches — none of those are addictive,” he said. “nicotine is not addictive. So what’s going on?

In fact, it is something that he then returns to in his study of the Markov model of smoking cessation where he points out that “because nicotine replacement therapies make only a small dent in the probability of return to habitual use” there has to be something else beyond the drug that draws people back to smoking.

With his research titled Disentangling the nature of the nicotine stimulus he introduces the concept that the process of addiction also rises from stimuli arising from inside the body due to the cocktail nicotine finds itself combined with.

But surely it is a given that nicotine is highly addictive, to this day the National Institute on Drug Abuse continue to state so on their website?

Regardless of the hesitation to accept his stance, Killeen says his hypothesis is hard to deny: “I presented this position to 20 of the world’s experts and though some were shocked and insulted, no one could argue that my case was untrue.”

Killeen admits that even though the addiction to cigarettes is highly chemical, a large part of quitting comes from moving away from social smoking situations and breaking the links smokers have with when they smoke.

Of 100 smokers who decided to quit, only 10 are still abstinent after a year, meaning there is a 90 percent relapse rate,” Killeen said. “There’s no such thing as a cure, in the sense that there’s always a very small but real possibility of relapse [for successful quitters],” Killeen said. “You can’t ever let down your guard.”

So, although the nicotine may provide a stimulant activity in vape the possibility remains that vaping’s success relies more on the process or recreating the smoking process rather than substituting the method of taking an addictive substance.

Photo Credit:

  • Vaper picture from The Guardian

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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