Beating a nicotine addiction is one of the toughest things a person can do, but it can be one of the best things for your health. Nicotine usually consumed through smoking, snorting or chewing leaves from the tobacco plant, which all cause cancer and other health problems. But now companies offer synthetic nicotine – a human-made nicotine that offers a nicotine hit without the tobacco.
We talked to Jennifer Cofer, director of the EndTobacco® program at MD Anderson, to find out about synthetic nicotine and whether it really is safer than other tobacco products.
What is synthetic nicotine?
Synthetic nicotine is made in a lab and marketed as “tobacco-free nicotine” by the tobacco and vape industry. It’s been around for hundreds of years, but the industry just recently revived it to be used in products.
How is synthetic nicotine different from regular nicotine?
Synthetic nicotine has a different chemical makeup than tobacco plant-based nicotine. Unfortunately, we don’t know specifics beyond that because companies are not required to disclose their ingredients and synthetic nicotine content.
This is hard to know because there’s no standard levels of synthetic nicotine to research and understand the full health effects. We do know that nicotine is always harmful to young people. It can impact brain development and damage parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control. No child or young person should use nicotine, synthetic or otherwise. It should also not be used during pregnancy.
Is synthetic nicotine regulated?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used to define nicotine products as derived by tobacco. This created a loophole for a whole market of new products using synthetic nicotine. It also led to a big problem of nicotine addiction in youth. But Congress has now closed this loophole and made it clear that the FDA can regulate tobacco products containing nicotine from any source. Now manufacturers, distributors, importers and retailers of tobacco products containing synthetic nicotine must follow all rules associated with tobacco. That means they can’t sell these products to people under 21, or market them as low-risk tobacco products without authorization. They also cannot distribute free samples of these products.
What’s the most important thing you want readers to understand about synthetic nicotine?
Synthetic nicotine is still nicotine. Even though we don’t know how addictive it is compared to tobacco-based nicotine, it is still addictive and, most importantly, can still cause the same damage to developing brains.