Synthetic Nicotine

The Synthetic Politick

You may have recently heard about synthetic nicotine in the news. When the FDA set its sights on vaping awhile back, it made the mistake of specifying “tobacco” derived nicotine, which opened a loophole for manufacturers to simply replace the tobacco based nicotine in their products with synthetic nicotine. Now the FDA is closing that loophole, and in a media driven world where anything synthetic must be bad for you, it seems they have a lot of support. Is the fear valid though? Or is it just more histrionics that anything vaping related must be a health crisis of national proportions?

Synthetic nicotine is not a new concept. If fact, it was first synthesized in 1904 by a Swiss chemist, Amé Pictet(1). Then, in the 1960’s, tobacco companies experimented with synthetic nicotine as an alternative to commercially grown tobacco, but abandoned the plan when they found it to be cost prohibitive. So while the ability to synthesize nicotine has been available for over a century, recent advancements have made it cost effective, and therefore commercially viable.

So how do they make synthetic nicotine now? Only the companies who hold the patents know, and they’re not going to share that information in order to keep it from being pirated. You may wonder if they’re not divulging some disgusting secret in the process, but since they openly share the use of ammonia in refining other tobacco products, it’s safe to say the patent is the reason for the secrecy. The only thing you really need to know though, is that the end product contains over 99.5% nicotine, which is higher than nicotine produced from tobacco. Additionally, it lacks all of the organic material that contaminates tobacco derived nicotine, including tobacco specific nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens.

Nicotine itself does not cause cancer. It may elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, and increase your risk of heart attack, and it is addictive, but it is not a carcinogen. Studies have also shown it increases memory, concentration, and temporarily reduces anxiety(2). So it’s risks, benefits, and addictive properties are very similar to that of caffeine(3). The massive health risk that is commonly associated with nicotine is actually from the tobacco that’s traditionally been used as a delivery device.

With all of that being said, it’s likely the FDA is regulating synthetic nicotine solely because of its association to tobacco, not because it’s a harmful substance. Since they believe the vaping industry is targeting children, and tobacco is bad, it seems they’re doing it in an attempt to keep minors from vaping.

So now I have to ask, when will they start regulating caffeine, and will Monster pass the FDA’s application process for legal distribution?

  1. Amé Pictet
  2. Everything You Need to Know About Nicotine
  3. Royal Society for Public Health