Nicotine is the reason that people become addicted to smoking cigarettes, and get lung, head and neck cancers as a result, but the nicotine in electronic cigarettes is also considered addictive, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Addiction, characterized by compulsive drug seeking in the face of negative health consequences, is felt by smokers who try to quit — of the almost 35 million who try to quit smoking every year, more than 85 percent relapse, usually within a week, according to NIDA.
Research has shown that nicotine increases dopamine levels in the reward circuits of the brain, according to NIDA. Cigarette smoking rapidly distributes nicotine to the brain, with levels peaking within 10 seconds and dissipating quickly, resulting in the need to keep smoking. But less is known about the delivery of nicotine via electronic cigarettes, in which the nicotine vapors are inhaled without any of the tobacco smoke.
For more information about electronic cigarettes, NIDA recommended that we talk to Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology and co-director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.