The Nicotine Epidemic

The most common addiction in the United States is nicotine addiction. There are nearly 50 million Americans addicted to a form of nicotine source, whether it be snuff, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or cigars. Up until 2003, when Chinese inventor Hon Lik created the first commercially successful e-cigarette, nicotine addiction came from tobacco products — which has made nicotine addiction even more of a concern than it has been in earlier decades because of the prevalence among young audiences.

What Is Nicotine?

The tobacco plant is the best-known source of nicotine, but several types of plants make it. Nicotine is a chemical that contains nitrogen. The type of nicotine you find in tobacco plants is nicotiana tabacom.

By itself, nicotine isn’t extraordinarily harmful or cancer-causing, but it is highly addictive. It exposes people who use tobacco products to adverse effects and dependency. In the U.S., smoking is the leading preventable cause of death.

Worldwide, there are more than one billion tobacco smokers. Snorting or chewing tobacco release more nicotine into a person’s body than smoking. Studies show that nicotine addiction is, at the very least, just as hard to overcome as an addiction to heroin. 

Tobacco Use and Its Prevalence

Tobacco has been growing wild in the Americas for thousands of years as a medicine and stimulant. Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover it. It wasn’t until 1992 that the federal government set the purchasing age for tobacco products to 18 years old.

In the 1920s, reports from the medical industry began linking smoking of tobacco to lung cancer. These links didn’t get reported heavily at first because the media didn’t want to disrupt the tobacco companies, which at the time, and for many years later, promoted tobacco products heavily. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that dangers of tobacco couldn’t be ignored or silenced, as a series of medical reports showed that smoking was a direct cause for a range of serious diseases. 

Worldwide, reports show that nearly 6 trillion cigarettes got consumed in 2016. Consumption has declined since then, and the trajectory of tobacco use is uncertain. In the United States, there are more than 34 million adults who smoke cigarettes, 16 million living with smoking-related diseases, and an estimated 8 million dying each year from these ailments. 

The Uniqueness of Nicotine Abuse

Even with the dangers that smoking poses, the cultural perception in the U.S. is that smoking is a cool thing to do. According to researchers, the exposure of teens to the behavior by actors in movies influences their decision to pick up the habit. Many adults who use tobacco today self-report they began their tobacco use during their teenage years.

Nicotine addiction is just like any addiction in that it alters the biochemical makeup of the brain; the earlier a person starts using, the harder it becomes to quit. As teens, the brain’s reward circuits are still developing, which is why they have a higher susceptibility to addiction. For adults who use nicotine and tobacco to help cope with stress, a natural alternative for them to consider is CBD, which is proven to help with feelings of anxiety. 

Unfortunately, each year, 480,000 people die prematurely from smoking cigarettes. Because smoking e-cigarettes does not involve the consumption of tobacco, many people — especially teens — feel there is no threat posed by them. Because electronic cigarettes and vape pens do not have carcinogens, which are substances that cause cancer, teens view them as being less lethal and are drawn to them

Is Vaping Better than Smoking?

So far, research has produced evidence to support the claims that e-cigarettes and other vaping devices are not as harmful as combustible cigarettes. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that nicotine, no matter the source’s form, is an extremely addictive substance. Researchers have discovered that nicotine is just as much, if not more, of a “gateway drug” as marijuana has long been considered to be.

Education about tobacco health risks is keeping many teens from smoking. Compared to other demographics, the 12 to 17 age group has the lowest rates of smoking, but those who are 18 to 25 years old make up the highest users of tobacco. Despite the effectiveness of no smoking campaigns and education, there is an increasing attraction to e-cigarettes and vape pens by youthful audiences because it seems to present lesser risk, or is otherwise perceived as harmless. 

The most commonly used form of nicotine among youth in the United States is vaping devices. In some studies, research reveals that many teens don’t even realize that e-cigarettes and other vaping devices contain nicotine. They assume there is only the flavor, like that of bubble or candy, and they don’t realize there is an addictive substance included. 

New Health Concerns about Vaping and Nicotine Addiction

There is still research needed to know about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes and vaping. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named a new lung disease, EVALI. It stands for “e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury.”

Most recently, the EVALI cases and 530 unexplained deaths in 39 states have led the Massachusetts governor to declare a public health emergency over the use of products containing THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. There is even more attention directed now towards the e-cigarette giant, JUUL, who has developed a vaping liquid from nicotine salts. This concerns federal and state officials, as it poses an even higher risk to users because a person gets a higher concentration of nicotine — making the product all the more addictive.  

Cigarette use was prominent in the 1940s and 1950s, and nearly 70 years later, nicotine addiction is a significant concern. Several decades ago, physicians didn’t always devote time to educating their patients about the risks of smoking cigarettes and lung cancer. Now, more than ever, medical education is crucial to preventing people from picking up the habit of consuming nicotine in any form and encouraging more adults and young people to quit and make healthier choices.

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