E-Cigs May Zap Addiction

Electronic cigarettes may cause less nicotine dependency than tobacco cigarettes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, may return a bit of independence to tobacco smokers who make the switch.

A new study found that e-cig users may be less dependent on nicotine than people who smoke tobacco cigarettes.

A higher nicotine level and a longer history of e-cig use, however, appeared to increase users' level of dependency, the authors of this study found through a new survey they developed.

"However, people with all the characteristics of a more dependent e-cig user still had a lower e-cig dependence score than their cigarette dependence score," said Jonathan Foulds, PhD, a professor of Public Health Sciences and Psychiatry at Penn State University in Hershey, PA, in a press release. "We think this is because they're getting less nicotine from the e-cigs than they were getting from cigarettes."

E-cigs are devices that heat a nicotine solution to produce a vapor that the user inhales. Nicotine is the primary addictive chemical in tobacco. E-cig users can purchase different concentrations of nicotine solutions.

Dr. Foulds and team developed the Penn State Cigarette/E-Cig Dependence Indices survey to assess dependency. These new metrics were designed to combine the most helpful questions of existing survey tools. Both new dependency surveys were hidden within a larger, 158-question survey. This survey was voluntarily completed online between December 2012 and May 2014 by 6,309 current users of e-cigs who once smoked tobacco cigarettes.

The results of the survey showed that 92.7 percent of cigarette smokers and only 35.4 percent of e-cig users reported having strong cravings to smoke. Also, 91.7 percent of cigarette smokers but only 35.2 percent of e-cig users reported that they were irritable when they could not smoke.

Dr. Foulds and team applied a formula to the survey results to calculate a number to represent the participants' total levels of dependency on e-cigs and cigarettes. The average dependency level of current e-cig use was 8.1. The average dependency level of past cigarette use was 14.5. This suggested that e-cigs were less addictive than cigarettes.

The design of the e-cig device was also shown to have an effect on dependency. Devices larger than a cigarette appeared to produce a higher dependency than smaller devices.

As expected, the nicotine level of the e-cig was shown to correlate with dependency. Devices that released higher amounts of nicotine were tied to the greatest dependency. Those with no nicotine were the least habit-forming.

These results may have implications on the use of e-cigs. While e-cigs are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as smoking-cessation tools, a reduced dependency hints at this possible function, Dr. Foulds and team said.

This study was published Dec. 9 in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

An internal grant from the Penn State Social Science Research Institute & Cancer Institute funded this research. Dr. Foulds and colleagues were funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Center for Tobacco Products.

Dr. Foulds consulted for pharmaceutical companies like GSK, Pfizer, Novartis, J&J and Cypress Bioscience. These companies develop some smoking-cessation products.

Review Date: 
December 18, 2014
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015