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Student Warning: nicotine addiction
can be quick and permanent

John R. Polito

If someone offers you nicotine, they are not a friend. Friends don't enslave friends.

Rachel is an 18 year-old College of Charleston student whose message to children and teens is that she's hooked on smoking nicotine.All experts agree, nicotine is highly addictive. But what does "highly" and "addictive" mean?

"Addictive" means that the brain assigns nicotine use the same importance as eating food. "Highly" means that it may only take inhaling nicotine or sucking its juice one or two times before becoming unable to say “no” to doing so again and again, for the rest of your life.

Whether cigarettes, e-cigarettes, juuls or juuling, whether cigars, pipes, bidis, or kreteks, most students become addicted to nicotine by inhaling it deep into their lungs. Once there, it crosses over into their bloodstream through millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli. Others become slaves to smokeless nicotine released from dip, snus, chewing tobacco or the nicotine gum or lozenge. Smokeless nicotine enters the bloodstream by penetrating gum, cheek and mouth tissues.

Sadly, each year about half a million U.S. students become slaves to daily nicotine use. Their addiction is as real and permanent as alcoholism. There is no cure. Once hooked, the best they can hope for is to successfully navigate withdrawal, arrest their chemical dependency, and remain on probation for the rest of their life.

And breaking free while toying with replacement nicotine isn't nearly as easy or common as sham Nicorette commercials suggest. Nicorette has been for sale here in the U.S. since 1984. Although billions have been spent advertising it, a July 31, 2013 Gallup Poll found that only 1 in 100 successful ex-smokers credit nicotine gum for their success.

Iris's message is simple.  I've smoked for three years and now I can't run and I can't breathe.

What does it feel like to be addicted?

Think back to the last time that you badly wanted to eat food. The wanting, urges and craves you felt were generated by your brain's dopamine pathways. Your brain's survival circuitry, it is the job of your dopamine pathways to not only generate wanting and urges, but to make thoughts of not eating food almost unthinkable.

That is the same dopamine pathway wanting felt by the nicotine addict, the alcoholic and the heroin or cocaine addict. Half of adult cigarette smokers do not smoke themselves to death because they are stupid. They do so because they have a brain wanting disorder, a mental illness in which their brain makes thoughts of ending use of smoked nicotine as unthinkable to them as ending food use is to you.

While you may feel wanting and urges to eat food a couple of times daily, the number of times that the nicotine addict feels the need to use nicotine often gradually increases over time to 5, 10, 15 and then 20 or more times, each and every day. It's called tolerance.

How would addiction to e-cigarettes change your life?

A smoker since age 15 from Columbia, SC, Reggie's message is to not start smoking.  He has tried quitting 4 times and failed.  He is a pack-a-day Newport smoker Some issues are obvious. Each and every day you'd spend money for more nicotine, throwing away thousands upon thousands of dollars. If it takes an average of five minutes per nicotine feeding, and if you need 12 feedings per day, you'd waste an hour of your life per day feeding a never-ending need for more.

Nicotine stimulates the body's nervous system, activating its impulsive fight or flight survival response. It makes the heart pound up to 18 beats per minute faster. It means that you might never again experience deep, true and prolonged relaxation. It would result in reduced control over your impulses, with greater difficulty making well-reasoned and thoughtful decisions.

It would also mean that stressful situations would become even more stressful. How? The body's urine turns more acidic when we get stressed. The more acidic the addict's urine becomes, the quicker the alkaloid nicotine is eliminated from their bloodstream. It would mean adding the onset of early nicotine withdrawal atop every stressful situation life throws your way.

It's why the nicotine addict reaches for nicotine instead of a jack when their tire goes flat. They are forced to service their addiction first. It's why the addicted student often finds themselves thinking about using nicotine instead of the correct answer during stressful tests.

Brittney's youth smoking prevention message - Don't listen to peer pressure When you see a friend or fellow student juuling, smoking, vaping, dipping or chewing, you are likely looking at a "real" drug addict in every sense. It's likely that they have very little understanding of their brain wanting disorder and why they continue to use.

The purpose of this article has been to give you a brief glimpse of what it means to become nicotine's slave. The good news is that so long as all nicotine remains on the outside it is impossible to get hooked. The bad news is that multiple studies have found that many products claiming to be nicotine-free actually contain nicotine.

And how are parents reacting?

"My name is A.H. and our son is a vape addict. Vaping has ruined who he is and changed his personality. His first vape was a JUUL. He has tried to stop many times but when he hasn't vaped he gets violet and destructive." Submitted by A.H.

Photo of a Juul cartridge or pod"I started finding Juul cartridges in my teenagers pant pockets. At first I had no idea of what it was. I thought a computer gadget of some sort. Then I found them in back pack pockets. Did some research and learned what it was. Nicotine. By this time my teenage son had lost weight, was having a hard time keeping up with his track and field team training and had a change in appetite. Mango and cucumber flavors were his favorite. He purchased them at the corner delis and bodegas. He locked himself in the bathroom to Juul and Juuled at night and early in the morning when he thought we where not looking. I found so many pods even after serious conversations and repercussions for my son. I attended school talks on Juuling. But I realized now my son is addicted. Its no longer a do not try conversation… its a how can I help you quit emergency. The accessibility, the marketing, and the cool gadgety look with flavoring is criminal to teenagers!" Submitted by C.

"PLEASE HELP! My 16 year old son vapes and it is heartbreaking." Submitted by P.C.

"My daughter started vaping in sixth grade. This is ridiculous! She is totally turned off by cigarette smoking, but this is so cool among her friends and she just doesnt appreciate the addictiveness or the danger. Could you please, please do something about this?! This is a health crisis unfolding before our eyes." Submitted by M.S.

"My son, now 17 years old has been addicted to e-cigarettes for what I suspect to be two years. I am a registered nurse and have always taught him the dangers of nicotine in its addictive properties. However, when I actually found the Vape paraphernalia in his backpack and confronted him he insisted that it was just flavored juice. He insisted that there was no nicotine in this product until I pointed out that one little Vape pod was equal to smoking five packs of cigarettes. This is actually printed on the warning label. Unfortunately, teens do not read warning labels. Although I have educated him he is already addicted to the nicotine product." Submitted by Anonymous

"My son, and many of his NJ high school friends, are addicted to Juuling. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and due to social media and the ‘it’ factor of Juul, this has become a viral epidemic. I don't have a comment on drug therapies, but the furtherance of this needs to be stopped in it's tracks – immediately." Submitted by Anonymous

"Our 16 year old teen son is addicted to nicotine thanks to JUUL vaping. It has also caused a spiral of his grades and led to trying other substances. The accessibility of VAPEs to kids is a huge problem." Submitted by A.S.

"My 13 year old daughter is in 8th grade. Unfortunately she gave in to peer pressure and tried a “Juul” in October of 2018. We found out she had a device and some “pods” that were given to her by a “friends older sibling”. We discarded the device and pods, explained at length the dangers of using this device etc. Just a few weeks later she was caught in the bathroom at school “vaping” and was suspended from school. My husband and I are at a loss as to what to do as these substances are so available and she reports that “everyone is doing it” “It’s everywhere”. I am a nurse and have talked with her many times about the dangers – many unknown as we do not currently know the long term cognitive effects not to mention the damage on the lungs. She said the Juul makes her ‘not care about things’." Submitted by R.R.

"My 19 year old son started juuling his sophomore year in HS. As varsity athlete he soon realized how it was impacting his success on the court but he could not stop. He is now in college and using every cent he makes on juul pods and we fear he is now a nicotine addict for life." Submitted by Anonymous

"My son is 19. He became addicted to vaping as a junior in high school. This happened without my knowledge while spending time with a friend who purchased their first 'kit' via the internet. The fruit-flavored vape juice and nicotine kept him coming back for more. Now he's been addicted for 4 years with no end in sight. As his mother, seeing him addicted like this tears me apart. He has asthma and I fear what vaping is doing to someone like him." Submitted by R.C.

"All I have to say is, if you had a child (in my case she is 11 years old) start using e-cigarettes (in my case she chose Juul) you would be beyond words as I am. She became quickly addicted and also tried other things as a means to get high. After all its cool right? You have no idea what addiction to nicotine can do to a child or do you? But they'll even steal to get money to buy." Submitted by L.

Visit WhyQuit.com to learn more about nicotine addiction, to watch nicotine addicts as they navigate early withdrawal, or to read tragic stories of addicts who died young, such as Sean, Noni, Bryan, Deb and Quintin.


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Written 09/17/13, reformatted 08/19/18 and updated 02/25/19by John R. Polito