Vaping Without Nicotine: Who’s Doing It?

Who’s vaping without nicotine, who’s sticking with it, and why does it matter?

Vaping is vaping, whether you’re doing it with or without nicotine. In fact, one of the most important things about vaping has always been the vaper’s ability to precisely control their nicotine. If you’re smoking cigarettes, the only way to reduce the nicotine is to smoke less.

But because you can get e-liquid in every nicotine level, you can vape just a little and get a big dose of nic, or vape a lot with no nicotine at all — and everything in between. For some vapers, they’re happy using a lot of nicotine, like they did with smoking. For others, reducing nic is important.

When I started vaping in 2012, I had the idea almost immediately of reducing my nicotine intake and just enjoying the flavor. What could be better after 38 years of Camels, I thought, than to kick back with a relaxing zero-nicotine vape while being free of the chains of addiction. Goodbye, demon nicotine!

We know that smoking addiction is more than just the nic.

But it wasn’t to be. For me, the nic was a crucial element of vaping success. I needed to feel the vapor when I inhaled it, and without nicotine, there was no feeling at all. Close your eyes and no-nicotine vaping is the same as breathing clean air. The horror! I needed nic’s scratchy kiss to enjoy vaping. And almost five years later, I still do.

I’m not alone either. It seems that the vast majority of vapers like nicotine and stick with it, though in lower and lower concentrations as the gear we vape with gets more powerful and efficient. That’s not to say that non-nicotine vaping isn’t a thing; it’s just not a huge thing compared to the traditional way we vape.

After all, most vapers were smokers (or still are). A big part of smoking is the nicotine. Why vaping seems to work better than pharmaceutical nicotine products to quit cigarettes is that in addition to the nic, it gives us a good simulation of the act of smoking. If you’re a typical vaper, you inhale, you exhale, you watch the vapor drift through the air…and you probably also enjoy the effects of nicotine.

vaping without nicotine

Has vaping caused an epidemic of teen nicotine use?

The regular accusation is that vaping is causing a resurgence of teen nicotine addiction. In his foreword to the Surgeon General’s report, “E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults,” former chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden laid out the supposed fear. “E-cigarettes are tobacco products that deliver nicotine,” wrote Frieden. “Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and many of today’s youth who are using e-cigarettes could become tomorrow’s cigarette smokers.”

Is that a legitimate fear? We have good information on teen nicotine use from data gathered in the annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, conducted by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The MTF questionnaire has asked teens twice now if they use nicotine when they vape.

Whipping up fear about nicotine addiction is big business.

Last December’s MTF data showed fewer than one in four 12th grade vapers reported using nicotine. If you think that was a fluke, remember that the previous year’s survey showed almost exactly the same result.

If just 25 percent of the high school seniors who vape are using nicotine, vaping is going to make a really rotten tool for big tobacco to “recruit a new generation of addicts,” as the anti-vaping zealots always say. But they keep saying it anyway. Don’t expect to see any letup in studies that purport to show a gateway from vaping to smoking — or news stories giving their authors the desired publicity. Whipping up fear about nicotine addiction is big business



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