Nicotine is a naturally occurring, somewhat addictive stimulant found in tobacco leaves, among other sources. An average cigarette provides smokers with 2 mg of nicotine. In high doses, it can be toxic, and it is commonly added to e-cigarettes, although its inclusion is optional. The question remains: Is nicotine itself a danger to consumers?
Nicotine and Cigarettes
Nicotine is one ingredient found in cigarettes that contributes to their being addictive, and nicotine patches and gum are tools used to help wean smokers from cigarettes. As noted in the Wikipedia article on nicotine,
“Nicotine’s addictive nature includes psychoactive effects, drug-reinforced behavior, compulsive use, relapse after abstinence, physical dependence and tolerance.”
Although nicotine is toxic in high doses, there is no research showing that nicotine of itself (that is, outside of cigarette use) is a carcinogen. Nicotine gum and patches thus replace the addictive nicotine found in cigarettes while reducing the risk of cancer created by smoking. Using an alternative nicotine source improves the odds of breaking the cigarette habit by 50% or more.
Benefits of Nicotine
Like caffeine, nicotine can improve brain functioning, including reasoning, alertness, and focus. It also improves fine motor skills. It’s stimulant effect is one reason so many get hooked on smoking.
Studies have found no adverse effect from using low dosage nicotine patches and the like while giving up smoking.
Nicotine also reduces appetite and boosts metabolism, which can aid in losing weight or keeping weight off. Because of this, most smokers have tended to put on some weight (typically 11-13 lb.) when they kick the habit, something vaping with nicotine can help counteract.
Drawbacks of Nicotine
Nicotine in small doses poses little risk, especially when separated from cigarette smoking. Nicotine does increase blood pressure and heart rate, which isn’t a big issue for healthy consumers, and it can lead to irregular heart rhythms.
Smoking tobacco is known to negatively impact fetal development, but with so many ingredients found in cigarettes, it’s impossible to know what role nicotine plays, if any. Nicotine is known to impact fetal growth, mortality, and brain development and has been implicated as a factor with “type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, neurobehavioral defects, respiratory dysfunction, and fertility” (Wikipedia).
The smart choice is to give up smoking during pregnancy and early childhood, since second-hand smoke is unhealthy.
Nicotine is toxic in high doses, and to avoid nicotine poisoning by children, tobacco products and e-liquids containing nicotine should be kept out of reach of children. (Nicotine level in tobacco leaves ranges from 0.5% to 7.5%). Most cases of nicotine poisoning have been related to its use as an insecticide, and it is easily absorbed through the skin. This is an issue for those who harvest tobacco and don’t protect their hands and arms from coming into contact with tobacco leaves (Wikipedia).
The nicotine level in cigarettes has increased over time, with one study finding an average increase in nicotine level of 1.78% annually among popular American brands from 1998 to 2005, which makes today’s cigarettes more addictive than those of the past.
Nicotine has been used as an insecticide since colonial days, although its use has dropped significantly in recent decades. Nicotine sulfate is a very potent poison made from tobacco leaves and it should be avoided, as it can be lethal to humans, not just insects. The last nicotine-based insecticide in the US was discontinued at the end of 2013.
Nicotine in E-liquid
Nicotine is an optional ingredient in e-liquid. Because some use e-cigarettes as a way to get nicotine without the drawbacks of smoking tobacco, most e-liquid and e-cigs contains nicotine, and it is often available in a range of levels.
Recently the vaping industry has begun using nicotine salts (nic salts) in its flavored products, a topic we address in a separate article.
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