“Is vaping without nicotine addictive?”
People have asked this question countless times. When they decide to transition away from nicotine, this is only natural. The lungs are sensitive organs, and various cancers such as mesothelioma can be caused by inhaling dangerous chemicals, even inadvertently.
The answer to this is complicated. For the most part, it depends on the person in question and whether they have a predisposition towards addiction. There are, however, other factors to consider.
Let’s take this one step at a time. We will first look at the facts, and then move on from there.
How Do Vaping and Nicotine Affect the Body?
Nicotine is a substance associated most often with the tobacco plant, used in recreational, medical, and religious contexts around the world. It is usually inhaled via smoking cigarettes or vaping nicotine e-liquids.
As a recreational drug, nicotine is intensely addictive. It creates dependency by manipulating a person’s mood, inducing euphoria where the resulting crash will make the user dependent on the high.
While it is considered a poison, cigarettes do not contain the high nicotine concentration necessary to kill humans. Instead, nicotine can cause tachycardia (elevated heart rate), higher blood pressure, headache, dizziness, and throat irritation. These effects can vary in intensity depending on the dosage and the nicotine’s strength.
People have long connected nicotine with various smoke-related cancers, but studies show that cigarettes cause cancer rather than nicotine. With this in mind, vaping nicotine is far safer than using cigarettes. Some even use it to transition from cigarettes until they stop smoking altogether.
Some major institutions, such as the British Heart Foundation and the NHS, have endorsed vaping as a safer alternative to cigarettes.
Is Vaping Addictive without Nicotine?
As said earlier, this depends.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), addiction is a condition in which a person repeatedly ingests or imbibes an addictive substance despite being harmful to their health.
By this definition, vapes without nicotine are not addictive.
Consider sugar, for instance. While one can certainly argue that sugar is an addictive substance, it is not addictive in the same way as nicotine or other illegal drugs. People become ‘addicted’ to it because they enjoy eating it, becoming part of a larger habit. Just because a person says they are ‘addicted’ to Mum’s lamington recipe does not mean they have an incurable addiction to sweet sponges.
In the same way, vape juice does not contain any chemicals or materials that can cause addiction per the APA’s definition.
The act of vaping itself can be categorised in the same way as other ‘addictive’ behaviours, like eating or video games. There are cases where people will vape in excess, but these people are already predisposed to obsessive behaviours. This can be linked to self-soothing behaviours performed by people with anxiety disorders or compulsions in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
In cases like these, you can just as easily argue that a person ‘addicted’ to vaping would be addicted to another activity if they did not vape, like gambling. A person prone to addictive behaviours does not make the activity addictive.
Is It Safe to Vape without Nicotine?
There is not as much data concerning the long-term effects of vaping since it only hit serious popularity in the mid to late 2000s. However, we do have enough information to know that vaping nicotine-free is not an entirely safe activity.
For example, US vape juice distributors use the substance diacetyl in their blends, which some doctors link to lung disease. Some have argued that it gives ‘popcorn lung’ – named for the workers in popcorn factories afflicted with this particular condition – but there are no conclusive studies to back this claim up.
The EU has banned diacetyl from all vape juice and vape-related products, and diacetyl-free blends are incredibly accessible in Australia.
Other chemicals are used in vaping products, though they are far less dangerous. Quite a few non-nicotine blends contain chemicals like propylene glycol. Cosmetics and food manufacturers use this chemical in their products, ranging from drink mixes to suntan lotions. It is also an ingredient in various corticosteroids and prescription medications like lorazepam. Manufacturers sometimes use more of it to ‘pad out’ a juice to compensate for the lack of nicotine content.
Vaping has some other side effects, which will vary from person to person, including narrowing the arterial walls. Some other side effects are:
● Altered mood
● Throat irritation
These will vary depending on the person, the blend, and how long they vape at a time. A person who vapes for more extended periods without a break will have more severe side effects than someone who vapes once or twice a day.
Even with all of this, vape juices – especially non-nicotine vape juices – have a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) certification by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). There may be risks, but they are overall much safer than any other smoking alternative, especially cigarettes.
Why Vape without Nicotine?
The first reason is obvious: vaping without nicotine means you will not be addicted in the same way one is addicted to nicotine vape juices or cigarettes. There is no high, there is no manipulation of your mood, and you do not gain dependence on it.
Another is the variety. Nicotine-free vape juices come in a spectrum of colours and flavours because they cannot rely on nicotine to do the selling for them. There is no addiction, so they have to stand up on their flavours alone. You have a few choices with tobacco (if you do not have the disposable income to buy cigars, hookahs, or expensive loose tobacco, anyway), but nothing to write home about. Meanwhile, companies sell vape juices (especially non-nicotine varieties) in flavours ranging from sour cherry to apple pie.
There is also a matter of price. Nicotine-free vapes are much more accessible, less expensive options that are friendlier to beginners. A lower-cost point of entry means there is less pressure to commit, and without nicotine, beginners can try things with little to no risk.
Pros and Cons of Vaping without Nicotine
Vaping without nicotine has its ups and downs, and while it is safer than vaping with nicotine, is not a 100% safe endeavour. Therefore, it comes with both positives and negatives.
People have plenty of concerns about vaping without nicotine, ranging from health concerns to worries about addiction.
Some of these concerns are well-founded and backed by hard science. Others, not so much.
One is that you will not get away from the risk of inhaling chemicals when using vape juice. Propylene glycol is a popular one in non-nicotine products. While it is not particularly unsafe, it can cause allergic reactions and throat irritation. A 2018 study conducted published by the American Academy of Pediatrics studied the effects of vaping on young adults and found that there were high concentrations of certain toxic chemicals in their urine, such as:
● Propylene oxide (a by-product of producing propylene glycol that causes respiratory and eye irritation)
● Crotonaldehyde (used to manufacture sorbic acid)
● Acrolein (formed by breaking down pollutants)
● Acrylonitrile (a material used to make plastics)
● Acrylamide (created through the interaction of sugar and asparagine; can cause nerve damage in extremely high doses)
However, the same study stated that despite the above risks, non-nicotine vapes were far safer than tobacco and cigarettes.
Speaking of nicotine, another concern is the prospect that some users will go back to using cigarettes without the nicotine. If the substance they are addicted to is not present, they have no reason to stick around.
With cigarette prices so high and Australian law so strict, this is much less of an issue here than in the US.
For all the negatives, there is much more to be excited about when vaping without nicotine.
For one, all of the addictive potential is gone. There is no reason to worry about addiction or growing attached to an unhealthy habit without nicotine. Nicotine-free vape juices focus on the flavour rather than satisfying the habit, which gives manufacturers more incentive to take care of their customer base.
Second, they are more economical for people on a budget. Cigarettes and nicotine products can get costly, especially with taxes, import fees, etc. With nicotine-free products, you have room to experiment and try new flavours at your leisure. It is also more viable to buy in bulk, whereas buying cigarettes can set you back hundreds of dollars, and some bulk vape juices cost far less.
Smoking also feels better with nicotine-free products. With nicotine products – especially tobacco – there is a burn in your throat that can deter many potential users. Still, nicotine-free products go down much smoother, leading to a more satisfying experience.