“Is nicotine bad for you?”
"Nicotine is no more harmful to health than caffeine"
There is no doubt that the public's perception of nicotine isn't good. 9 out of 10 adults in the UK believe nicotine to be harmful and one of the main cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes*. But this is simply not true.
*Research conducted by The Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH)
Thankfully the RSPH have gone to great lengths to try and address this misconception. It's something we will look at later in this blog too, but first let's talk about where this idea comes from.
It's not difficult to understand why people believe nicotine to be harmful and cancer-causing. Because of nicotine's link to tobacco and smoking, it's had nothing but bad press since the 1960's when the first studies on smoking were conducted. When anti-smoking campaigns hit their stride in the 1970's when I was a child, nicotine was not considered separate from the harmful tobacco smoke.
One of my earliest memories is watching an animated anti-smoking programme on television. Aimed at children, a super-villain called 'Nick-O-Teen' was enticing teenagers into taking up cigarette smoking so he could steal their lives away. It was pretty powerful stuff to me as a kid and the fact that I can remember the “One puff and they'll soon be in my grasp” tag-line to this day shows the impact it had on me, even though years later, like so many, I started smoking regardless. So the conclusion must be that it was terrifying and memorable, in the same way Doctor Who was, but ultimately ineffective as a way to stop young people smoking.
…. but I digress.
Thankfully today, because of e-cigarettes and other nicotine replacement products, we can separate nicotine from tobacco smoking. While smoking is considered to be the number one preventable cause of death in the world, it is not the nicotine causing those deaths. All the evidence suggests that in the amounts we consume as vapers (or indeed smokers) is considered 'fairly harmless' by health professionals. There is no evidence that nicotine alone causes cancer or heart disease.
To try and address the misconception, the RSPH have commented that nicotine is “no more harmful to health than caffeine”, another mild stimulant that millions of people consume every day in their tea and coffee. It's a message that we need to keep reinforcing and sharing.
When smokers understand that nicotine does not pose the health risks they believe, they are far more open to the suggestion of getting that nicotine in a much less damaging way, like a vapour producing e-cigarette.
However inconvenient it might be, there's obviously something we need to talk about, the fact that nicotine is an addictive chemical. We all know this, it's one of the reasons smoking is so difficult to quit. It's the reason I used to fall out of bed and reach for my pouch of tobacco before I'd even got dressed. It's the reason I now get my nicotine from vapour devices. It's the reason a lot of you are reading this right now I expect. The question is not whether nicotine is addictive, (it is) the question is whether addiction itself is harmful, when the effects of that addiction are not? That's a question that deserves a lot of thought when it comes to e-cigarette use.
I'm a nicotine addict, I'm also a caffeine addict. If you want me to be totally honest with you, while we sit in this virtual group circle, I'm addicted to music too. If I don't get my daily 'fix' of copious amounts of tea, BBC Radio 6music and half hourly toots on my vape, I get very grumpy, agitated and unhappy. I'm not proud to be an addict, but I also know that my addictions aren't doing myself, or anyone else, any real harm. I could not say that when I was a smoker.
All discussions of nicotine in relation to e-cigarette use, have to be in a context that's appropriate for how we are using it. I've read many articles that will talk of nicotine toxicity as a way to beat down on vaping and I considered talking about it in-depth here. But I think ultimately, talking about nicotine as a toxic substance is a fairly pointless discussion. If you drink 20 bottles of high strength nicotine then sure, it's not going to be a happy outcome. Equally, if you eat 20 packets of Aspirin it won't be a happy outcome either ... you understand my point.
There are plenty of people around the world that are still smoking 20 or even 40 cigarettes a day. They are doing serious amounts of physical damage to themselves in many ways but nicotine poisoning isn't one of them. It's ridiculous to suggest that any smoker would be in danger from nicotine toxicity by switching to an e-cigarette. And I guess there lies the problem and why we are talking about this at all. The anti-vaping articles about the 'negatives' of nicotine are often centred around children, non-smokers, pets or contexts completely unrelated to vaping. While those might be subjects worthy of discussion elsewhere, those aren't the contexts I'm talking about here.
The context here is the millions of adults still smoking tobacco cigarettes, who are already addicted to nicotine and now have a way to get that nicotine in a way that's much, much safer. When I think about it like that, there really isn't much that really needs further discussion.
Simon - My Vape Box