Some individuals struggling to lose weight think they have stumbled, or more accurately, inhaled their way into a perfect weight-loss drug. It doesn’t require a prescription, and although not cheap, its costs are affordable. It doesn’t appear to have dangerous side effects and, in addition, it is fun to use. The drug is nicotine, and when it is delivered into the body by means of an electronic cigarette, it seems to cut cravings for sweets, increase metabolism, decrease snacking, and reduce weight. Indeed, electronic cigarettes have been recommended as an effective way to helping tobacco cigarette smokers wean themselves off cigarettes without gaining weight.
Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine into the body through a vapor that is inhaled by the smoker. One of the most popular models is JUUL. It looks like a cigarette, but unlike a cigarette this model, like other electronic cigarettes, emits clouds of white vapor. Using an e-cigarette gives the smoker the appearance of walking around in his or her own fog machine. The device heats up a small quantity of an oil or liquid containing nicotine, and the user “vapes,” or inhales and exhales the vapor.
When a tobacco cigarette is smoked, about 1 mg of nicotine enters the body. A typical electronic cigarette, such as a Juul, provides the nicotine in puffs—and the more puffs, the more nicotine enters the lungs. The nicotine itself is housed in a pod or cartridge. One cartridge contains about the same amount of nicotine as in a pack of cigarettes. Thus, 200 puffs of a Juul would deliver as much nicotine as smoking 20 cigarettes.
Vaping side effects include dry mouth, sore throat, and, for new smokers, the dizziness that comes when nicotine is first introduced into the body. But the most significant hazard associated with e-cigarettes is the same as that associated with tobacco cigarettes—the nicotine. Nicotine is not a harmless substance, no matter how it is delivered into the body, and has an extremely high addiction potential.
Vaping is now is now seen as a gateway to tobacco cigarette smoking, especially for teens. Brian Primack and colleagues reported this a few years ago when they surveyed a random selection of young adults, asking them about their smoking habits. Vaping was a significant predictor of traditional cigarette smoking. The young adults who used electronic cigarettes were four times as likely to begin to smoke tobacco cigarettes as those who did not vape. The authors suggested that vaping makes it easy to tolerate nicotine for those who never smoked, as the vapor may contain sweet fruit flavors rather than the sometimes harsh taste of tobacco. They point out that later on the young adult may become addicted to the nicotine, and require the higher concentrations found in tobacco cigarettes to satisfy the craving.
A new potentially serious health risk from vaping is in the making—using vaping as a weight-loss drug. The internet is filled with anecdotes extolling the appetite-suppressant effects of vaping. It is said to decrease cravings for sweets, and to be effective as a way of ending a meal—vaping rather than eating dessert. Sucking on the e-cigarettes apparently relieves stress, the nicotine increases metabolism, and for some, vaping acts as a substitute for eating altogether.
Research is now being published describing the vaping habits of adults trying to lose weight. Not surprisingly, individuals who wanted to lose weight vape more frequently than those not trying to control food intake.
Individuals with eating disorders are also turning to electronic cigarettes to prevent themselves from eating. According to a recently published study, someone suffering from anorexia or binge eating is much more likely to use vaping as a way of controlling their food intake than someone without such disorders. Moreover, they tend to vape daily and use high levels of nicotine.
There is growing concern among those in the addiction community that not enough attention has been paid to vaping. The casual use of an electronic cigarette to stop snacking or to produce quick weight loss should be cause for alarm. Vaping is not seen as a means of bringing a highly addictive drug into the body by those who are turning to it as a “fun” way of losing weight. Moreover, the vaping dieter is not asking what happens when the weight is lost. The answer: Weight is regained, along with the possibility of an addiction to nicotine.
Withdrawal side effects from inhaling nicotine by vaping are the same as the side effects felt when cigarette smoking is stopped. According to Addiction Resource, those side effects include depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, insomnia, and weight gain. Vaping is not the magic pill of weight-loss success. The loss of pounds comes with a price—the need to continue vaping indefinitely to keep the pounds off, and along with that, an addiction to nicotine.
Weight loss can be achieved and maintained only when a permanent switch to better food choices and a commitment to exercise is made. Insight into why overeating occurred is another significant factor. Vaping accomplishes none of this. Rather, it promises weight-loss results only through bringing an addictive, potentially dangerous drug into the body.
“Initiation of Traditional Cigarette Smoking after Electronic Cigarette Use among Tobacco-Naïve U.S Young Adult,” Primack, B, Shensa A, Sidani J, et al, The American J of Medicine 2018; 131:44.e1-443.e9
“Vaping to lose weight: Predictors of adult e-cigarette use for weight loss or control,” Morean M, Wedel A, Addictive behaviors 2017 66:55-59
“ Smoking-related weight and appetite concerns and use of electronic cigarettes among daily cigarette smokers,” Bloom E, Farris S, DiBello A, Abrantes A, Psychol Health Med. 2019; 24:221-228