Of the many concerns – or excuses – opponents of e-cigarettes use, one of the most commonly heard is “addiction.” Specifically, anti-vapers wail about the possibility that teens might take up vaping because it’s said to be less harmful than smoking, and then get addicted to nicotine in e-cigarettes or even jump from vaping to smoking. The latter possibility, in addition to not being a logical assumption (why would a teen who picks vaping because it’s safer later decide to do the more dangerous thing?), has not been proven and in fact has been unproven by at least one study. And now, new data from Penn State indicates that as an addictive habit in itself, e-cigarette use is significantly less addictive than smoking.
PATH, the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health study, is an ongoing project that involves over 32,000 people who are being surveyed on their tobacco use. Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine took a look at PATH data to see how e-cigarette users compared to smokers as far as “addictive” behaviors go relating to the use of their nicotine delivery system.
The findings showed generally that e-cigarette users feel less “addicted” than smokers do. Among other things, compared to smokers vapers did not feel the need to use an e-cigarette as quickly after arising in the morning, felt better able to cope with not vaping when they were restricted from doing so, and had less intense cravings or a feeling of need for vaping.
The researchers considered all the individuals they studied to be dependent on either e-cigarettes or cigarettes, but concluded that the level of dependence is much stronger for cigarette smokers.
Another consideration is dual use. Dual use is when a smoker alternates between cigarettes and e-cigarettes as a method of smoking cessation or indefinitely. The researchers only found around 3,500 people of the 32,000 PATH participants who were strictly users of one product or the other (e-cigarettes or tobacco cigarettes.) Of those, only 5 percent were strict e-cigarette users while the rest were smokers.
Because of the prevalence of dual use, the researchers plan to do further analysis to compare addiction from dual use to addiction from exclusive use of one product or the other.
But the takeaway from the Penn State analysis for now is that vaping is less addictive than smoking. The researchers did not venture as to the “why” this is, but it could be because of the difference in the way nicotine is delivered. In order for vaping to work to help a smoker quit, if the smoker is addicted to nicotine the e-cigarette or vaporizer they use must deliver nicotine efficiently. Studies have shown that e-cigarettes do this effectively. But unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes allow the user to gradually reduce their nicotine intake safely.
The PATH study began after former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy denounced e-cigarettes as a threat to public health and especially to teens and young adults. But in doing that, Murthy at least acknowledged that more research is needed. Studies like the one from Penn State add to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are definitely safer than smoking and not likely to pose any threat to non-smokers, though all are agreed that non-smokers should not take up the vaping habit. Smokers, on the other hand, could improve their health and even save their lives by switching to vaping.