Thursday, August 22, 2019

Nicotine: Still Not Cool or Safe

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Serious question.  Why would anyone born after, say, 1985 decide to start using nicotine products?  It's been beaten into our heads how addictive & deadly tobacco is...how it stains your teeth & leaves you smelling like an ashtray while turning your skin into aged leather (never mind the whole cancer thing)... yet people my age & younger still choose to smoke!  Granted, the rates of teen & young adult smoking HAD increased in recent years, that is, before vaping came along.  Now kids are back on the nicotine bandwagon, insisting it's different this time or somehow less dangerous.  True, they've taken burning tobacco out of the equation but the highly addictive nicotine still remains.

It's been known since 1987 that nicotine is harder to quit than heroin, amphetamines & cocaine according to the Surgeon General.  All the various nicotine cessation products on the market attest to this.  People who have quit hard drugs can still be seen chain smoking & often aren't expected to quit in rehab because it's a "slow death" as opposed to an imminent threat to their lives, but the truth is it's just too hard to give up for many.  I've personally had a number of friends who have quit for 6 months or more & then fell back into smoking as hardcore as before.  Even after going through the miserable cravings & withdrawals they couldn't stay off the 'tine.  A substance that doesn't even get you high.

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Effects of vaping nicotine

That's how addictive nicotine is: it doesn't cause a true psychoactive high or altered state yet it's one of the hardest substances to quit permanently.  That's scary.  My own mother quit after giving birth to me over 30 years ago.  She'd been a heavy smoker for 20 years prior.  To this day if she smells a cigarette burning she gets cravings & wants to sit around smelling the secondhand smoke.  My dad has never been able to quit dipping snuff despite several valiant efforts.  And this (nicotine) is the substance teens are vaping like it's nothing.

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How nicotine causes addiction in the brain

For those who claim nicotine is completely harmless health-wise, you couldn't be more wrong.  Studies have shown that, while it doesn't cause cancer, nicotine promotes faster growth of tumors once they've begun to form.  Not great news since we all develop cancer cells randomly at some point in our lives that our immune systems generally knock out.  And then there's the unknown effects of vape additives, some of which are suspected to cause ailments like pneumonia & other mysterious pulmonary problems.  Diacetyl, a common flavoring agent used in many nicotine vaping juices, is a known to cause popcorn lung for instance.  Even in the absence of dangerous flavoring ingredients, plain old e-liquid (propylene glycol and glycerine) produces free radicals that increase the risk for cancer.  

And then there's the sticky situation of being utterly dependent on any substance.  Vaping may be affordable & hip now but what happens when the government cracks down & decides to start taxing vape products like they do tobacco?  Or some other unforeseen regulatory crackdown makes your drug of choice unavailable or unaffordable?  I've been around long enough to see this happen with too many substances.  It's also quite possible--likely even--that vaping will go out of fashion the way smoking has, meaning public places will institute their own bans & make it extremely difficult & uncool for vapers to do their thang.  

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Vaping may one day become as stigmatized as smoking

Don't get me wrong:  I'm well aware of the FDA & Scott Gottlieb's scare tactics & the media's lust for drug scare stories.  I'm not here to judge anyone or advocate for any bans.  Any consenting adult who wants to ingest nicotine should be free to do so.  Kids?  Not so much.  But you can't truly give informed consent without having all the facts, hence this article.  There's still a lot we don't know about the long-term health effects of vaping as well as the problem of a totally unregulated market, which is why it's disingenuous to claim that vaping is a "safe" alternative to smoking or smokeless tobacco products.  It may not even be "safe-er" when it's all said & done.  We simply don't know yet.  One thing is certain:  vaping has resurrected the use of nicotine by teens in a big way, a fad that was declining in America for decades.  That can't be a good thing no matter how you spin it.  

When used to help cease smoking actual tobacco, vaping might be a safe way to taper down & quit altogether.  But that's not how nicotine in vape form is being used...at least not in the overwhelming majority of cases.  It's used to replace one long-term addiction with another or, worse, to start an addiction to nicotine in young people who otherwise wouldn't have touched it due to the disgust toward tobacco that's been drilled into our heads for decades now.  

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