Study: Tobacco pyrazines - not nicotine – biggest promoter of smoking addiction

As the anti-vaping rhetoric continues to ramp up across America, evidence now indicates that the general public is suffering from misinformation overload regarding the differences between vaping and smoking.  As far back as 2015, the UK’s Royal College of Physicians published research documenting how electronic cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than combustible tobacco products.

Several U.S. studies have since validated the British findings.  Meanwhile, multiple public health organizations like the American Cancer Society and the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine have publicly come to the defense of vaping as a safe and effective alternative for smokers trying to quit.  Yet, in a recent survey conducted by the Georgia State University Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (GSU-TCRS), an astonishing 45 percent of respondents reported that they believed – wrongly - that vaping is just as deadly a smoking. 

The pyrazine paradigm: Smoking versus vaping:

Ask any smoker, and they will most likely say that kicking the habit is perhaps the most difficult lifestyle change that they have ever attempted.  Unfortunately, becoming addicted in the first place is often all too easy.  Why is that?

According to research published by scientists from Harvard University, Big Tobacco has stacked the deck in favor of smoking addiction by filling their cigarettes and other tobacco products with lots of needless chemicals called pyrazines.  And the cigarette manufacturers only choose those pyrazines that promote tobacco dependence to the highest degree. 

“The release of tobacco industry documents in the 1990s and investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brought to light tobacco manufacturers’ research and development of the use of additives and ingredients besides nicotine which led to the increased appeal, attractiveness and addictiveness of products. Independent scientific evidence has demonstrated that conditioned cues produced by tobacco non-nicotine ingredients and smoke constituents are instrumental in maintaining tobacco use.  Therefore, current models of tobacco product abuse potential recognize nicotine as the primary drug of addiction, and that non-nicotine tobacco constituents and sensory stimuli from packaging and environmental cues also contribute to tobacco dependence.”
- The Harvard University study entitled A study of pyrazines in cigarettes and how additives might be used to enhance tobacco addiction (BMJ Tobacco Control)

Led by Harvard’s Dr. Hillel R Alpert of the Department of Environmental Health, the research paper also describes how effective these pyrazines can be in getting first-time smokers hooked seemingly overnight.  Through decades of research dating back to the 1950s, Big Tobacco has had plenty of time to determine and carefully select only those chemical additives that make smoking most palatable to the novice smoker. In doing so, the cigarette makers are essentially “easing” newbie smokers into a lifetime of addiction unknowingly.

“Cigarette additives and ingredients with chemosensory effects that promote addiction by acting synergistically with nicotine, increasing product appeal, easing smoking initiation, discouraging cessation or promoting relapse should be regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. Current models of tobacco abuse liability could be revised to include more explicit roles with regard to non-nicotine constituents that enhance abuse potential.”

Vaping, on the other hand, is completely pyrazine-free.  The e-liquids used in electronic cigarettes contain no chemical additives and only three major ingredients. Along with the special flavorings, vape juice is made from a natural sweetener often used in ice creams called vegetable glycerin and another ingredient commonly found in baked goods like Entenmann’s  cakes and cookies.  The latter is called propylene glycol, and research dating back to the 1940s further indicates that vaporized propylene glycol kills airborne bacteria like streptococcus, pneumococci, and staphylococci.

An additional study published in February 2015 further determined that vaping is substantially less addictive than smoking and other nicotine replacement therapies like patches, gums, and lozenges.  Co-authored by Swiss scientists Jean-Francois Etter and Thomas Eissenberg, the study is entitled Dependence levels in users of electronic cigarettes, nicotine gums and tobacco cigarettes (Drug and Alcohol Dependence).  

Related Article: Science shows vaping propylene glycol kills pneumococci, streptococcus bacteria


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