From One Puff to Addiction: The Psychology behind E-Cigarettes

Vaping has quickly become just another norm of life in secondary schools.

By Simon Bennett

Cigarettes and smoking have been a norm of life since the 20th Century. People smoked cigarettes religiously, as it was the normal thing to do both socially and at home. Consumer costs were low and profits skyrocketed for years. Around the 1950’s, medical professionals began to realise the negative effects of cigarettes on the body, connecting them to respiratory problems, addiction and cancer. 

            Despite this, cigarettes continued to be sold, with slight restrictions on advertising. This continued for years until the mid-2010’s, when e-cigarettes and vapes became the new trend. Specific Vape and e-cigarette shops began to pop up rapidly throughout the U.K., quickly gaining popularity. Previously, cigarettes and smoking were the ‘cool’ thing for teenagers to do, but vaping changed that, becoming the new popular trend.            

            People immediately assumed that these were ‘better’ and ‘healthier’ than cigarettes, with no specific knowledge as to why. People believe that they are the ‘cool’, new and ‘healthy alternative’ to cigarettes. Sadly, this really isn’t the case. This research speaks to psychologists, dentists and Members of the Legislative Alliance about why this is and why the information isn’t in the public eye as much as it arguably should be. 

Dennis Relojo-Howard MSc, founder and Managing Director of Psychology website Psychreg, as well as being the chief editor of Psychreg Journal of Psychology, says that ‘Addictive drugs and substances are everywhere in our society. Some have been around for decades or even centuries, while others have just cropped up in recent years. Research has shown, however, that e-cigarettes may have a higher addictive potential than smoked cigarettes among young adults. E-cigarettes also have the potential to provide a false sense of security to teens and parents when they can’t know for sure if the product is nicotine-free’. This backs up the hypothesis that these target younger people and teenagers into addiction. 

            According to Relojo-Howard, nicotine is the primary addictive agent for addiction, both in regular tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Relojo-Howard adds that in regular, tobacco cigarettes, the nicotine, whilst mentally addictive, is otherwise harmless. On the other hand, it is the numerous other substances in tobacco cigarettes that end up being harmful for people’s physical health. Relojo-Howard also states that a study by Tobacco Control from 2000 states that the nicotine addiction and cravings can begin within only a few days of starting to smoke. This is true for both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes. 

            When questioned on symptoms of vaping addictions, Relojo-Howard says that ‘when you go without vaping, the nicotine level in your bloodstream plummets, which may trigger strong urges to vape, unpleasant feelings, and physical symptoms. These are symptoms of nicotine addiction. Nicotine can also cause physical changes in the brain’. According to Relojo-Howard, ‘nicotine can increase dopamine levels in the reward circuit of the brain. Hence, making people want to consume more nicotine products in the long run. If you stop using it, your body can get confused and you can start to feel really sick’. Relojo-Howard then reiterated that the addictive quality of e-cigarettes and cigarettes is purely the nicotine levels, which is exactly why so many people who smoke or vape find it near impossible to quit. This is just like a tobacco, alcohol and any type of illegal substance addiction. If it is just as addictive as anything that it illegal, why is it being recommended so heavily? Vaping devices can be used to get artificial highs, by vaporising THC, a psychedelic cannabinoid from cannabis plants. This can be done with cigarettes too, showing the dangers of both.

Shops and cafe’s that allow people to come in and vape their cannabis, specifically for medical purposes do exist, such as Stay Medicated in Ballyclare. According to the owner, Alan Robinson, a cannabis activist, he finds when he vapes cannabis, it improves his mental health. According to Robinson, ‘I find when I vape cannabis, I am calm’. Alan Robinson, who has a history of being on anti-depressants, found that the anti-depressants made him mentally worse, not better.

            Robinson says that the ‘whole point of this lounge is for people that have a private prescription for medical cannabis, it’s for them to come into an atmosphere that’s non-judgemental’. Alan added that ‘more importantly, they’re able to have access to the proper dry herb vaporisers, the proper medical apparatus that they should be using’. Robinson added that the correct medical equipment is ‘very expensive’. The Volcano Hybrid, a recognised medical cannabis device, will cost a person privately £500, as well as the cost of a private prescription for medical cannabis, which itself can cost around £500. For anyone who is in chronic pain and therefore could not work, this price would be unthinkable to pay, which is why Alan set up his cafe.

            According to Robinson, he received very little in terms of legal challenges when setting up his business. Before setting up, he spoke to some of the local Ballyclare coucillors, who to begin with, were ‘very apprehensive, saying things like “cannabis causes mental health problems”’, despite Robinson’s prescription for medical cannabis being to combat his own mental health problems. This shows how the positives of vaping cannabis are underreported and unknown to both the public and people in government positions.

According to a statement from the Department of Health’s Press Office, ‘for young people, the risk of using illicit substances is particularly dangerous. The teenage years are vital to healthy cognitive function as an adult, so it is important to maintain healthy behaviour during these years. Substance use can impact the brain’s ability to function in the short-term as well as prevent proper growth and development for later in life. Substance use also affects teenagers’ brain development by interfering with neurotransmitters and damaging connections within the brain, creating problems with memory and emotional development, causing missed opportunities during a period of heightened learning potential, ingraining expectations of unhealthy habits into brain circuitry, and reducing the ability to experience pleasure’. This backs what Relojo-Howard stated about impacts on the brain from vaping.

            The Health Department further added that ‘Cannabis is a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which means it’s illegal to have, give away or sell – unless you have a prescription’. The statement continues with ‘because of the huge number of different chemicals now sold as liquid cannabis, it is possible that someone found to be in possession of liquid cannabis could, in fact, be in unwitting possession of a class-A controlled substance’. This shows just how dangerous cannabis can be when in the hands of children, whether vaped or not. 

Nicotine free vapes do exist, however are much harder to obtain. The website do not sell any nicotine free products, however, do sell nicotine shots, that can be added to nicotine free vapes. These cost only £1.99 and have 18mg of nicotine, which is above the average amount of nicotine in a normal tobacco cigarette. This shows that vaping is more addictive than normal tobacco. Other websites like do advertise their nicotine free products, however specifically state that their 120ml bottle of nicotine free vapes are short filled to allow people to add nicotine to what should be a nicotine free product.

            Relojo-Howard adds that there are many signs of an addiction. According to Relojo-Howard, ‘one of the tell tale signs of nicotine addiction in teens is that there’s an excessive craving for vapes – making sure one always has a vape on hand. They will also get out of their ways to get vapes if they don’t have any’. Relojo-Howard adds ‘that with most addiction there is anxiety or irritability if going too long without vapes’. This reinforces my predictions. Relojo-Howard was then questioned on whether e-cigarettes are genuinely a good idea as a quitter to cigarettes. He responded with ‘most medical professionals suggest that vapes are far less harmful than cigarettes and can help you quit smoking for good. Vape allows you to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke’. Relojo-Howard adds that ‘vapes have the potential to reduce healthcare costs’. This shows that quitting normal, tobacco cigarettes for vaping and e-cigarettes has both financial benefits and healthcare benefits. This backs the original hypothesis. 

            In conclusion, there are clearly some benefits of vaping over smoking, however both should be avoided if possible.