name "nicotine addiction"
state beta
class lingo
category mostly cognitive bias
motivation goalposts, scope
science aversion πŸŸ₯πŸŸ₯🟧

"Tobacco control" regularly claims nicotine-only delivery systems (NVP) to be equally as addictive as tobacco. It's effectively a tobacco trivialization:

Rarely even based on junk science, typically resting on linguistic conflations. And mostly pretext to validate FUD or banning rationales.

  • Some TC orgs seem genuinely unaware that nicotine isn't the sole addictive substance in tobacco. (Stuck in 80s science.)
  • Partly motivated by scope creep, with weasel phrases revealing intent.
  • Often held together by tobacco-industry conflation.
  • And of course meant to underpin not-quitting claims, by exaggarating the addiction potential.
  • More plausible motivator might be confusing the habitual/prolonged usage (for long-time smokers) for addiction strength.
Tobacco addiction amplifiers

Tobacco induces a nicotine dependency, not the other way round.

  • Nicotine is still believed to be the main driver.
  • Accelerants (ammonium/urea?) speed up absorbtion (5-10s instead of 10min), by weakening the blood-brain barrier
  • Anti-depressants (MAIOs) and acetalaldehyde contributing to dopamine high and slower serotonine decay
  • Role of other tobacco alkoloids aren't fully understood yet.

Most addiction profiles rest on intoxication strength, alacrity, and/or duration. Light stimulants like nicotine depend on side-effects.

But can nicotine be addictive on its own?

Absolutely. While dependency retention is strongest for former smokers (1% of nicotine gum users have a midterm dependency), it can still be dependence-forming for tobacco-naΓ―ve teenagers e.g. Due to lower BMI, not because of the mice brain FUD.

  • Wouldn't even factor in nominal concentration too much (but also not discount it), as the dosage is often self-administered.
  • Have to be careful with anecdotes and scripted interviews from the US. (Orchestrated by the same groups that weren't overly truthful on EVALI.)
  • Keep in mind the 27% "epidemic", with only 2% daily use in reality. Or the 60% overall drop 2 years later. Not much of an addictiveness quantifier, but more realistic than the hyperbole.
  • Nicotine is unlikely to induce a severe addiction all by itself.
  • But dependency retention is fairly prevalent for former smokers. (Then again, 20 years smoking can't be fixed in 6 weeks. But explains the nirvana fallacy of ANTZ arguments.)
nicotine use brain-reachy addictiveness retention
tobacco/smoking seconds 🟧🟧🟧🟧🟧 🟧🟧🟧🟧🟧
NVPs 5-10 min 🟧 🟧🟧🟧
gum 10-20 min - 🟧
patch 30-x min - -

(Not from any specific study, just representative approximation). Patches definitely cannot be addictive, gums most likely not. And e-cigs probably not excessively higher (purely from the psychoactive chemical POV.)

Assumption origins

SG report on smoking (1988)
The report itself was actually quite encompassing. And compares tobacco addiction to other drugs. But essentially still attributes it as "nicotine addiction". Resulting in media outbursts like:
The Surgeon General of the United States warned today that nicotine was as addictive as heroin and cocaine...
Albeit the report recognized aldehydes as potential contributors, it didn't "determine if these volatile smoke constituents in the doses delivered in tobacco smoke contribute to the behavioral effects of cigarette smoking". Which is why the parroting might still be the primary/subconscious rationalization for nicotine being addictive all on its own caricatures.

SG report 2010: tobacco smoke causes disease
Intellectually quite a stepback, as it reclasses tobacco as nicotine addiction, even though references acetalaldehyes, still ignores MAOIs. Thus reinforces the assumption that nicotine was the sole addictive substance in tobacco.

Tobacco industry congress hearing
  • Intentional lying about addictiveness. Though interestingly: question was about nicotine itself, not tobacco. (Doesn't change the intent.)
  • This is worth exploring, since it mirrors the same cognitive reaction as public health deluding themselves on "lights".
  • And obviously corporate tobacco was quite happy with letting the public believe that nicotine was the main addiction driver. And that seems like the origin cause for tobacco controls self-delusion and adopting this trivialization.
  • scaremongering about nicotine gum
    * Rationales were probably similar (early 90s?).
    CTFK bitching about nicotine lozenges
    * Mostly about flavours.
    Self-inflicted trivialization
    * Since nicotine has been instilled on smokers to be the sole addiction reason (might well improve placebo efficacy of NRT), TC fell for it themselves.

    E-cigs are certainly much less addictive

    Important: The dependence profile is always the sum of its parts. And even though there's no reason that e-cigs would be biochemically more dependence-forming than other nicotine-only substitutes. The habitual dependency from e-cig usage can't be discounted. (Unlikely to put it anywhere near tobacco/smoking still.)