Saturday, March 8, 2014

It's not "just an addiction"

Although my 21 year old son has a mother who advocates smokeless alternatives for smokers, he and his older brother (who was quite anti-smoking when he was younger) both started smoking. My younger son tried e-cigarettes, but didn't really get into them until some of his smoking friends made the switch. My elder son soon followed suit.

The other day, my younger son posted a photo of his new e-cigarette "wrap" on his Facebook page. His uncle then posted this:
"I just quit outright. Not sought out a surrogate....E-cigs are like giving up sex, but feeling that doing a blow up doll every night is not at all the same. Why waste money? Just live smoke free, and end the social addiction aspects, which keep you in "smokers mode" Just quit the actual habit, and walk away a richer man...Nicotine is neither hallucinogenic, nor pleasing. it merely takes away the craving for more nicotine. That is all it does."

My son then posted:
"Mom, educate this man please. lol"
I told him, "It's pointless to try to explain it to some people, sweetie. They'll never understand that vaping is just as "pointless" as coffee. I'm just very happy you and your friends aren't smoking anymore!"

It was clear that my former brother-in-law has been convinced by the anti-tobacco propaganda and arguing with such people is an exercise in futility. If you have quit smoking and are the better for it, there is no way you'll be convinced that any other course of action many be better for someone else. But I felt his beliefs are shared by so many others that they still needed to be discussed.

E-cigs are like giving up sex, but feeling that doing a blow up doll every night is not at all the same.

Personally, I feel it's more like giving up a relationship with a destructive partner and finding one that makes me happy and satisfied. Unless you have tried e-cigarettes before quitting smoking, you'll have a hard time understanding this. I don't know any vaper who would compare switching to vaping with giving up sex. For many of us, it's not the same as smoking, but in many ways even better!

Just live smoke free, and end the social addiction aspects, which keep you in "smokers mode"

First of all, by vaping, he already does "live smoke free."

Second, if it was so easy to quit smoking, there wouldn't still be 42 million smokers in the U.S. The "social addiction aspect" is a lot more powerful than given credit. Both of my sons work in the restaurant/bar industry, which is known for a high number of smokers. It's all around them. The alternative to using the e-cigarettes would be smoking. In fact, that is exactly what both of them were doing before vaping. "Just say no" doesn't work so well for underage sex, drinking and drugs and it doesn't work for smoking.

Just quit the actual habit, and walk away a richer man

Taken literally, vaping is far less expensive than smoking. Spiritually, what makes one feel richer in life is different for every person. Not every smoker feels a "slave to addiction." They just don't want to die from it. The idea that one's life will be enriched and improved by giving up a dangerous habit or dependency may be true, but what if the habit or dependency is not dangerous, as with vaping? Would someone happily dependent upon caffeine really feel more "enriched" by giving up their daily coffee and energy drinks? Would anyone even expect them to give it up, especially if it wasn't negatively affecting their well being?

Nicotine is neither hallucinogenic, nor pleasing. it merely takes away the craving for more nicotine. That is all it does.

These vapers, at a meet in Virginia,
look pretty darn happy to me.
The idea that nicotine (and smoking) is not pleasing and the only reason one would "need" it is to "feed the addiction" is simply not true. Nicotine, especially in the form of e-cigarettes, has many pleasant effects that are largely ignored and downplayed by the anti-nicotine zealots. Research shows it is a stimulant like caffeine. It also has a calming effect and can improve concentration. There is a reason why so many with brain conditions such as ADD, OCD, depression and mental illness end up smoking.

So, there is more to the desire for nicotine than just a craving for more nicotine. And if smoking was just about getting the nicotine, then why do nicotine gums and patches fail to satisfy the desire to smoke for 97% of smokers? The nicotine in e-cigarettes is the same as in gums and patches, yet smokers find e-cigarettes to be far more satisfying. Obviously, the act of smoking - the habit, the taste, the feel of vapor in the mouth and lungs - is a significant aspect in smoking. And since none of those things are "addictive," they could only be about the pleasure and enjoyment of the experience. After all, caffeine is available in a pill, yet most people would prefer to get it by enjoying a steaming, venti mocha latte or an icy Coke or Pepsi. The experience matters - a lot. Just because you cannot understand why someone would enjoy something it doesn't mean that it's impossible to enjoy. I think sushi is disgusting, but billions of people love it. Does that mean I'm wrong and they are right?

The stigma of mental illness (and I dislike that term because of the stigma) has caused many people to avoid seeking treatment. Yet conditions which affect the brain are no different than other genetic diseases such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease. Things like cancer and diabetes don't really run in my family, but a lot of brain conditions do - ADD, OCD, depression, bi-polar disorder and even stuttering. Research is showing that nearly all of these conditions may benefit from the positive effects of nicotine, with very few of the negative side effects suffered by users of prescription drugs. It is no wonder that drug abuse, alcoholism and smoking are also common in suffers of these diseases, because many people are unconsciously self-medicating. Many people don't even realize they have a condition they are "medicating," because it is a mild form.

Unsurprisingly, alcoholism, drug abuse and smoking have all been a problem in my family. Most people would be ashamed to admit that, but I truly believe that it's the underlying medical conditions that are the cause, not some moral deficiency or weakness. There should be no more shame in admitting a genetic predisposition to mental illness than having other genetic diseases run in the family. Unfortunately, that is not how society treats us. They tell those of us that fall into dependency that we only need the moral fortitude to beat our addiction and our lives will be hunky-dory. Unfortunately, they often ignore the very real diseases that are usually the cause of the "disease of addiction" in the first place. If a little bit of nicotine is helping me get through the day, giving it up isn't going to make me less stressed or less depressed.

Someone may give up the alcohol or cigarettes, but then live a life of comparable misery on psychoactive drugs that have their own deadly or debilitating side effects - some that include an increased risk of suicide! Quitting smoking doesn't mean instant health and happiness for these folks. It isn't simply a matter of getting through a short time of withdrawal, but rather a lifetime of dealing with the effects of losing their "medication." It's no different than if you took away a patient's Wellbutrin or Adderall, then told them to just "tough it out" and it will get better. No, it won't.

Of course, for most people, the health risks of smoking far outweigh the benefits of the nicotine and other monoamine oxidase inhibitors (natural anti-depressants) they get from smoking. Yet, no matter how they try to quit, they keep smoking. That is why smoke-free tobacco alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, are such an important breakthrough. They aren't for people who can easily walk away  - those who don't smoke because they also suffer from one or more mental diseases, but only because it's become a habit. They are a far safer alternative for people who cannot quit or who unlikely to even try quitting.

Personally, I suffer from mild depression, anxiety and OCD. I could give up my e-cigarettes (which I do enjoy beyond the effects of the nicotine), but then I would likely become dependent upon pharmaceutical anti-depressants. Honestly, what would be the difference of being dependent on smoke-free nicotine or dependent on some pharmaceutical drug? Would I be anymore "free" by being dependent on a pill? Would taking a pill make me happier than a puff of satisfying and pleasant-tasting vapor? I think not.

I say, you do what makes you happy and I'll do what makes me happy. If it isn't hurting me or anyone around me, then what is the problem?

In case you think I'm just giving an opinion about the links between mental disorders and addiction, read "Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and mental disorders" by Dr. Marc-Antoine Crocq:
"People choose to smoke because they appreciate the psychoactive, stimulant effect of nicotine. Smokers report that smoking helps them concentrate, reason, and perform - observations consistent with studies demonstrating that nicotine improves attention, learning, reaction time, and problem solving. For example, studies suggest that nicotine Increases the speed of sensory Information processing In smokers." Smokers also report that smoking helps them relax, particularly In stressful situations, and improves their mood. They report pleasure and reduced anger, tension, depression, and stress. One explanation for the use of nicotine Is that smokers rely on these positive reinforcements to cope with their environment. This hypothesis is borne out by the fact that Individuals with psychiatric or psychological problems characterized by negative affect and difficulty coping are more likely to be smokers than Individuals who are more emotionally stable. The psychological and societal factors that Influence experimentation with tobacco will also Influence the propensity to experiment with other substances and, generally, different patterns of behavior."
It's worth noting that the decline in smoking rates mirrors a huge increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and attention deficit drugs since the mid-80's - and a significant increase in obesity. There is no clear evidence for causation, but it is a definitely worth considering.


  1. E-cigarettes don't contain the chemicals and smoke that "real" cigarettes do, no doubt. However I think the point your sons uncle was making is that none of really understand the true long term effects of e-cigarettes and if you can give up cigarettes why not go the full mile, and quit for good and save money at the same time!

    1. I'm fairly certain that author spent the bulk of this entire piece explaining "why not go the full mile" as you put it. It's also worth noting, as she did, that the vast majority of those who've moved from traditional tobacco to e-cigarettes have indeed already attempted going that "full mile", some successfully, many unsuccessfully. But again, this was all covered above. Cheers.


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