Why Did Mitch Zeller Hedge On Nicotine?

Vaper’s Vortex

April 24, 2015

“We don’t know yet.”

In his video following the release of the 2014 CDC-FDA Youth Tobacco Survey, Mitch Zeller responded to the question “Are e-cigarettes addictive for kids?” Zelller’s somewhat surprising response:

“We don’t know yet. We do know that they contain and deliver nicotine, and that they could be addictive, but I can’t say definitively that they are for kids.”

Curious. This from the man that just moments earlier in the video described the NYTS results as “…astounding and disturbing.” He could have easily said “We know nicotine is addictive” and very few would have even raised an eyebrow. Why did he hedge?

Is nicotine addictive? The answer to that question appears to be not quite as cut and dried as many (including myself) might think.

“It seems very safe even in nonsmokers. In our studies we find it actually reduces blood pressure chronically. And there were no addiction or withdrawal problems, and nobody started smoking cigarettes. The risk of addiction to nicotine alone is virtually nil [emphasis added].”

That is a quote from Dr. Paul Newhouse, Director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Cognitive Medicine. He went on to say:

“People won’t smoke without nicotine in cigarettes, but they won’t take nicotine by itself. Nicotine is not reinforcing enough. That’s why FDA agreed nicotine could be sold over the counter. No one wants to take it because it’s not pleasant enough by itself. Nicotine by itself isn’t very addictive at all… [it] seems to require assistance from other substances found in tobacco to get people hooked.”

In an article in the March 2014 issue of Discover magazine titled “Nicotine, the Wonder Drug?”, nicotine used to treat disease did not result in addiction or withdrawal in studies conducted by neurologist James Boyd of the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Burning tobacco is, beyond any doubt, very highly addictive. Nicotine alone – not so much. If at all. Experiments conducted on the various properties of nicotine have revealed that it is almost impossible to get lab animals addicted to pure nicotine. But quite easy to get them addicted to cigarette smoke.

Maryka Quik, program director of the Neurodegenerative Diseases Program at SRI International, a nonprofit research institute based in California’s Silicon Valley:

“The whole problem with nicotine is that it happens to be found in cigarettes,” she says. “People can’t disassociate the two in their minds.”

Peter Killeen (now retired), was an emeritus professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. In 2009, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) invited Killeen to look into ways to improve scientific research on drug abuse, specifically nicotine addiction. And the result:

“I came up with a shocking discovery. There’s no such thing as nicotine addiction. It’s time to get our heads straight, what causes the tremendously addicting power of cigarettes is the drug cocktail of nicotine, not nicotine itself.”

As most of us could imagine, many of the experts that Killeen presented his findings to were less than receptive. But Killeen is not alone in his hypothesis and even those most critical of his findings found it difficult to argue with his reasoning:

“Studies have shown that none of the nicotine replacement therapies — chewing gum, inhalers, patches — none of those are addictive. Nicotine is not addictive.”

So if nicotine itself is not addictive, what makes tobacco cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products so incredibly addictive? Killeen theorized that the combination of monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, along with nicotine, along with 7,000 chemicals produced from burning tobacco, that is the source of addiction:

“When you put together something that directly releases dopamine [make the user feel great] and another thing that helps the brain clean up excess dopamine [take the great feeling away], you’ve got a one-two punch. It is my hypothesis that it’s a combination of nicotine with some of these other chemicals that causes the powerful addiction.”

So why did Zeller hedge on the question of the addictiveness of e-cigarettes? It was no off the cuff remark. It was calculated. Planned. And well executed. There is even some real science behind what he said. But it required that he pass on an easy selling point to an ill-informed public. Sooner or later the reason will surface. I’m betting it will be well after the upcoming FDA regulations are announced. Any takers?

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 Dave Coggin has a Master’s Degree in business and spent 35 years in corporate America. He is a co-founder and partner in DIYELS. He has spent the last five years actively researching and following the evolution of the e-cigarette industry. He is a strong proponent of e-cigarettes as the most promising option currently known for tobacco harm reduction. He may be contacted directly at dave@diyels.com .

The opinions presented here are exclusively those of the author. Vaper’s Vortex is offered as a service to our customers and followers. Anyone considering e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes should seek qualified advice from a medical professional.

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