Home Health & Wellness The Psychology of Vaping: Do You Really Need the Nicotine?

The Psychology of Vaping: Do You Really Need the Nicotine?

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Vaping was invented as a smoke-free and tobacco-free alternative for smokers who either can’t quit by conventional means or want to use nicotine in a way that doesn’t require the inhalation of smoke but is still satisfying and enjoyable. Vaping works. Clinical reviews have shown that people are more likely to quit smoking by switching to vaping than they are by using traditional nicotine replacement therapies.

As you might imagine, the vast majority of the vaping products on the market contain nicotine. That’s why vaping works – it allows you to get your nicotine by inhaling it. Other nicotine replacement products are less satisfying because they require you to absorb the nicotine through your mouth or skin.

What you may not know, though, is that nicotine-free vaping products also exist, and they’re much more popular than you might guess. There are many thousands – perhaps even millions – of people in the world who vape on a full-time basis, don’t smoke and don’t use any nicotine at all. How could that be?

As it turns out, the psychology behind vaping – and behind nicotine addiction in general – is much more complex than it might appear on the surface. Even if you’re a full-time smoker right now, it’s possible that you don’t actually need the nicotine as much as you think.

Tobacco addiction has physical and psychological components

It’s well known that cigarettes are extremely addictive products. They’re so addictive, in fact, that most of the people who develop severe chronic diseases from smoking are still unable to stop. That’s partially because of nicotine dependency, but one thing you might not realize is that cigarettes themselves reinforce addiction in ways that we still don’t fully understand. 

For example, tobacco smoke has been shown in clinical research to inhibit the brain’s production of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). When MAO production is inhibited, other neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and dopamine collect in the bloodstream in higher concentrations than normal. This effect serves to reinforce addiction, and only tobacco smoke has this property – nicotine alone doesn’t.

Smoking also has a psychological hold that’s just as difficult to break as physical addiction – and for some people, it might be even harder to break. According to a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who quit smoking continue to feel urges to smoke long after all nicotine withdrawal symptoms are gone. It’s not rare for former smokers to feel tempted to have “just one cigarette” for years after quitting.

The fact that some people find the mental component of tobacco addiction more difficult to overcome than the chemical dependency might explain why certain smokers are able to quit smoking by switching to vaping even if they only use nicotine-free vapes. Once you’ve gotten through a few days of physical withdrawal symptoms, you’re home free – and during those few days, you could even use a traditional nicotine replacement product to make things a bit easier.

Many people switch from smoking to vaping without using nicotine

If you’re still in disbelief that it’s possible for some smokers to switch to vaping without using nicotine, it might be instructive to examine how some other nations handle the regulation of vaping products. Even in places where vaping is completely legal, vapes with nicotine aren’t always allowed. Norway is an example of a nation that doesn’t allow vaping products with nicotine, and it’s estimated that around 150,000 people there vape. Clearly, a significant number of people have managed to switch successfully from smoking to vaping even without the ability to buy nicotine vapes. You could potentially end up joining that group.

It’s usually best to try nicotine vapes first if they’re available

Despite everything we’ve said in this article, it’s still probably best for you to start out with a vaping product that contains nicotine if it’s legal to do so where you live. Most people who vape do use nicotine, and having a satisfying replacement for the nicotine in tobacco will most likely give you the best possible chance to switch to vaping successfully. 

Although you might start out with a vaping product that contains nicotine, you shouldn’t assume that switching from smoking to vaping means you’ll be a nicotine user for the rest of your life. Vaping products have one important feature that’s completely unique and isn’t available in any other type of nicotine product. If you’re patient and dedicated, you can potentially use that feature to help yourself become nicotine free for life.

Vaping can provide a way to reduce your nicotine consumption

One of the greatest features of vaping is the fact that it gives you precise control over your nicotine intake. That’s because vaping allows you to adjust both the nicotine strength of your e-liquid and the number of times that you puff on your device per day. By combining those two features, you can reduce your nicotine consumption so slowly that you’ll hardly feel a difference at all from one day to the next. With every other type of nicotine product, stepping down – by eliminating one cigarette smoked per day or by reducing the strength of your nicotine gum, for instance – is always a major, unpleasant event. 

With vaping, you can reduce your usage by as little as one puff per day until you either reach your goal for daily nicotine consumption or rid yourself of nicotine entirely. Once you’re free of nicotine, you can vape just for the enjoyment of the flavor or to keep the psychological component of addiction at bay. You could also just quit vaping if you prefer – it’s entirely up to you.

If you want to use vaping as a way of reducing your nicotine intake, it’s important to note that the best way to do this is always by using a refillable device like this one. Only a refillable vape gives you the ability to use any e-liquid you want, which means you have the freedom to use any nicotine strength. Pre-filled disposable vapes and pod systems, on the other hand, are usually available in only two strengths at the most and won’t make it easy for you to gradually reduce your nicotine intake to extremely low levels.




Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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